Culture Lab U.K. (Culture-Lab)

The New Diplomas In England


The government has already named the various consortia that are to implement the first of the new Diplomas in England but according to a survey for the 'Qualifications and Curriculum Authority' (QCA) only about one third of people appear to know about them.

So What are the changes?

Firstly, the new diplomas are not to be confused with the multitude of other diplomas that already exist such as BTec diplomas (at different levels) or the International 'Baccalaureate Diploma' etc.

Initially called 'Specialised Diplomas' they were the government's answer to an inquiry that it commissioned into overhauling the 14 to 19 education.

The inquiry which was led by England's former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson recommended over-arching diplomas at different levels of attainment that would replace the existing qualifications, both academic and vocational and he painstakingly built a wide consensus around the idea.

However as soon as his report was published the government denied that there was any consensus and said that the existing GCSEs and A-levels would remain in place and that continues to be its view although it expects the other vocational qualifications to "wither on the vine" as the Specialised Diplomas gradually take hold.

When will they come into force?

The first five will start being taught in September 2008 in the employment sectors of 'creative and media', 'information technology', 'health and social care', 'construction' and the 'built environment and engineering'.

Then in 2009 teaching is due to start in five more, 'land-based & environmental', 'manufacturing', 'hair & beauty',' business administration & finance' and 'hospitality' & catering'.

Then finally in 2010 will come 'public services', 'sport & leisure', 'retail and travel' & 'tourism' by which time there should be universal entitlement to study the Diplomas by 2013.

Since the original fourteen "lines of learning" were announced consideration has also been given to having an extra diploma in 'applied science' even though the science GCSEs have just been overhauled in order to try and increase young people's interest.

Additionally, in 2011 a new 'General Diploma' will recognise achievement in the equivalent of five A*-C grades at GCSE level including English and maths.

So will the 'Diplomas' just be a new non-academic option?

Well officially they shouldn't be as the government insists that they should be designed to appeal to academically minded youngsters in much the same way as taking A-levels and with an added workplace perspective. The intention being that they will combine practical skills and theoretical learning.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson has described the 'Diplomas' as "the missing link, creating the mix of vocational and academic education which we've lacked for so long" but he has also said that the reforms could "go horribly wrong" if the 'Diplomas' are seen as a second best.

So just how vocational are they?

The QCA describes the engineering diploma, for example, as being for all learners but particularly for those "seeking knowledge and skills in the broad context of the engineering industries". Its purpose will be "to introduce learners to the world of engineering and to captivate their imagination in recognising the potential of a career in engineering". Moreover, among other things it is intended to give them an understanding of "the contribution engineering makes to modern life" and of its "rewarding career opportunities".

The engineering diploma will cover a number of topics within various themes such as, "discovering engineering technology" and learners will look at practical skills, computer aided engineering, routine maintenance, materials and electronics.

This will happen at varying levels of ability

Are difficulties expected and when will there be prospectuses?

It is unlikely that any one school will have the expertise or equipment to deliver all the 'Diplomas' so they are being developed by way of partnerships and will typically involve various schools, colleges and perhaps even employers working in collaboration.

Students and teachers will have to be more mobile and flexible and also be willing to travel to different centres for different courses and perhaps be able to work via information and communication technology.

Some expertise in this has already  has been built up through what is called the 'increased flexibility programme which enables school pupils from age fourteen and up to do 'day release' courses at local colleges. It is credited with having improved disaffected youngsters' behaviour and attendance along with their skills.

There are obvious concerns relating to transport in the rural areas along with other issues like health and safety, the curriculum and timetabling, employment conditions and the increased costs.

Prospectuses are due to appear any time now which should be just about in time for students that might be interested in signing up for the 2008 courses.