Vocational course seeks reputation to match A-level: Pilot diploma is source of pride

HAVING completed a year's diploma course in performing arts at Monkwearmouth Tertiary College in Sunderland, Trinette Powell was proud, writes Donald MacLeod.

'The best part was actually seeing a performance where we had done most of the work. Parents and friends come up and congratulate you and there is the thought that we had made it happen and not just the lecturers,' she said.

She intends to pursue a two- year vocational course in the same subject. Her City and Guilds diploma will be a GNVQ Level 2 and she will be working towards a GNVQ Level 3.

Neither Trinette nor Victoria Fawcett, another 17-year-old student at the college, could yesterday bring to mind GNVQ or knew that it stood for General National Vocational Qualification. The point, as far as they were concerned, was that they had enjoyed their courses and believed that the subjects would help them towards a job they wanted - in Victoria's case as a nurse, and in Trinette's case, in acting or teaching drama.

The college tries not to bombard students with acronyms when they are choosing courses, Colin Hindmarch, the vice-principal, explained.

It has been running the diploma as the first year of a pilot 'GNVQ lookalike' and will produce its first students with GNVQ qualifications next summer. More than 80 of the 93 pilot students passed but Mr Hindmarch said the new qualification was being made almost too tough.

He said: 'If anything, they may be erring on the side of making them more demanding than they should be. But I am certain that the pass rates will be better than the traditional offerings.'

For Trinette, who had no GCSE qualifications, the year meant units in music, drama and stagecraft. She helped with all aspects of the performances the students put on and choreographed a dance sequence for a 1920s show.

Victoria said there was a good deal of individual study. 'It's up to you to get it done.' She had achieved the necessary competence in her pre-nursing course. It had been good 'and fun as well'. She is now aiming for a Level 3 qualification. 'If I pass my exams I would like to go to nursing college . . . It will give me a bit more confidence as well,' she said.