A high degree of commitment is demanded from both students and teachers. Students are strongly motivated by the content of the courses and the way in which they are taught. Teachers have welcomed the positive response and initiative shown by students.
A valuable feature of these new courses is the opportunity they provide for students to experience aspects of the world of work and develop their understanding of the vocational area they are studying.
These are among the findings by Her Majesty's Inspectors in an interim report published by the Office for Standards in Education, which suggests that Part One GNVQ could be generally introduced as one of the optional courses in the KS4 curriculum.
All pilot schools were visited - most of them three times - to assess the progress that students were making and the standards they were achieving.
The report shows that a high proportion of the work is satisfactory and that much of it is good, particularly in business and health and social care. Attainment is less satisfactory in manufacturing.
Students must also complete units of work in three key skills: communication, application of number and information technology.
Schools have so far found it difficult to incorporate all of these satisfactorily into Part One courses, in some cases owing to pressure of time.
In most cases courses are well-managed, with teachers receiving strong support and encouragement from their senior managers and governors.
Schools introducing the courses for the first time need to plan ahead carefully. They also need to ensure that students are given good advice when they make their options choices in Year 9, and that they are well-informed about post-16 progression opportunities. Schools should draw up schemes of work detailing the content of assignments, and the assessment and internal verification arrangements.
The report notes that teachers have a continuing need for professional development to bring their experience of the vocational areas up to date.
HMI identify some weaknesses which the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications or the awarding bodies need to take steps to remedy.
For example, assessment procedures are complex and time- consuming, and grading criteria are difficult to interpret. In some cases, when teachers who are not specialists in the vocational area concerned are verifying students' work, this can lead to variable standards being applied. The externally-set, multiple-choice tests are inconsistent in quality and not always well-suited to their task.
A major difficulty faced by schools is the lack of common ground between the specifications for the foundation and intermediate courses. This has resulted in decisions having to be made too early in year 10 about the course level for which students are registered.
The report notes that a joint programme of action by SCAA and NCVQ has been agreed with the DfEE to remedy the weaknesses of the assessment system. If this programme is fully implemented, it should meet a number of the concerns raised by HMI.
Commenting on the report HM Inspector of Schools in England, Chris Woodhead, said: 'I am pleased that the early results from this pilot course are showing such potential. The links between school and the world of work are particularly welcome and the backing and positive attitude of employers can help make this Part One GNVQ a success.
'There are some problems which need to be ironed out, but I am sure Part One GNVQ will ultimately provide students with a high quality, nationally recognised, vocational course.'