The first four catering colleges to be accredited by the National Skills Academy (NSA) for delivery of the Professional Cookery Diploma were revealed at a dinner in Northamptonshire last night.
Speaking at the Professional Association for Catering Excellence conference, NSA chief executive David McHattie revealed that London's Westminster Kingsway, Leeds Thomas Danby, University College Birmingham and Newcastle College would set the bar for delivery excellence that their peers must follow.
McHattie said: "We are endorsing these four colleges because the teaching they provide is excellent. These four colleges not only serve employers with skills chefs they also provide students with the very best foundations for a long and successful career."
The year-long diplomas, introduced in 2006, are part of the new Vocationally Related Qualifications (VRQs) introduced, in part, to replace the defunct City & Guilds 706.
Supporters of the vocational qualification argue it presents a much better balance of practical and classroom learning than the maligned NVQ, which was traditionally accused of being a" tick-box exercise" that didn't prepare students for life in commercial kitchens.
The diploma and colleges are not, however, without their critics, with the general standard of education receiving a bashing earlier this month from Gordon Ramsay, while John Williams, executive chef at the Ritz in London, said that while better than NVQs, VRQs still didn't measure up.
The UK-based Association Culinaire Française, whose members are drawn from some of the country's leading catering colleges, has also gone on record questioning whether VRQs will deliver the basic chef skills required in commercial kitchens (see Letters in Caterer this week).
The professional diploma is one of four training programmes endorsed by the NSA. It is joined by Advanced Apprenticeships, the Compass Junior Chefs Academy and chef master classes.
By Chris Druce
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