MALVERN College is to be the first secondary school in the country accredited to offer BTEC foundation courses in art and design.

From September 2001, students planning to study for arts degrees will be able to take a Diploma in Foundation Studies Art and Design.

The course is compulsory for those taking arts degrees and is normally taken in the first year at university or college. It will be open to mature students as well as those who have just completed A'levels or International Baccalaureate.

Director of art and technology Tim Newsholme said the idea of offering foundation courses had been prompted by the head of a prestigious university art department saying he needed better prepared foundation students to enter degree courses.

He was worried that foundation departments were taking too many students who were not getting enough individual tuition.

"We have a good, solid staff and a terrific suite of studios connected to a new technology building," said Mr Newsholme.

"We've always felt we were knocking on the door of foundation level and could rise above A'level with the quality of our teaching. It's a ground-breaking idea and when I've been able to demonstrate that it really works, I believe it will be extended to other schools in the future."

Malvern College gives a high profile to the arts and is nationally recognised in the independent sector for the quality of its arts department. The emphasis is on fine art, with a large painting and drawing studio, as well as dark rooms, printing room with etching and print-making facilities, sculpture and ceramic studio, textiles room, history of art resources studio and facilities for metal casting and working with computer generated imagery.

There are currently 60 sixth-form art students and Mr Newsholme anticipates taking about 20 foundation students and employing extra staff.

"It'll be a smallish group for a foundation but with a high level of tutorial attention and care," he said. "We hope to attract both post A'level students and mature people without formal qualifications, who can show that they have the ability."