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status and low pay. A linked issue was emotional labour. By this we mean that nursery nurses must bottle up and constrain their feelings regardless of their own emotional well-being, yet acknowledge and deal supportively with intense emotional pressures and demands from the children (Colley, 2004).

Other problems centred on students who discovered that they did not want to be nursery nurses or that they were unlikely to achieve the necessary qualifications to enter the profession. The tight focus on the practice of being a nursery nurse marginalised these students. A few dropped out and some were excluded, while tutors thought that others disrupted the bonding of the group.

Where links between college and employers are less close there can be different problems. On a male-dominated engineering day release course, many students struggled to see the value and relevance of what was taught in the college. Their identity was formed at work, and they did not regard themselves as students. This situation may allow college tutors to introduce theory and methods not found at work, and thus challenge aspects of existing working practices. However, the risk is that the more they do this, the less notice some students will take. Here too, emotions played a role in inclusion and exclusion, as students completed or dropped out according to their ability to cope with the demands of college work in addition to full-time employment and family responsibilities (Colley et al., 2003).

An increasing number of VET courses have no substantial employer links or even work experience. This was the case on a GNVQ business education course and is likely to be the case in many successors to GNVQ programmes including vocational GCSEs. Students enrolled on the full-time course intending to learn skills to get them good jobs in business. Business-related knowledge, skills and understanding were taught successfully and tutors were unconstrained by employment practices. However, it proved difficult to inculcate ways of working appropriate for employment into the students. Many had no practical experience of the business sector with which to relate what they were taught. The successful ones learned how to be good students of business studies, not how to be business employees. The lack of local employer links made progression into related employment difficult (Walhberg and Gleeson, 2003).

Sometimes the college just provides NVQ assessment or verification. What is learned depends almost entirely on the employers, and there can be problems because working practices are too narrow to allow the full range of NVQ competence to be developed. One college tutor took it upon herself to work with the trainees and their employers to fill as many of these gaps as possible. The result was relatively high pass rates. These were achieved by adding college teaching in the workplaces. This was not officially part of her job, and the college was not funded to provide it, but it was an essential ingredient in the success of the programme. College decisions to move to online assessment (reflecting a broad national trend) closed down the space for such ‘underground’ tutor-student contact and the learning opportunities it could generate (James and Diment, 2003).

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