From education to employment

But Will the Diploma Reform Education and Training, or Raise New Problems?

What are being hailed as the “most significant reforms to secondary education” moved closer today with the announcement by the Government of their proposed delivery strategy for ther new Diplomas.

These qualifications, seeking to combine applied experience ““ based learning with academic study, are the newest addition to the qualifications quiver. It is hoped that this will broaden the choices available to 14 ““ 19 year olds in fields such as robotics, aerospace engineering, electrical installation, graphic design, nutrition and health and computer programming. The Diplomas are to be rolled out in five subjects from 2008, which will be construction and the built environment; IT; creative and media; health and social care and engineering.


The announcement today, however, is that employers and educators ““ who have been working in tandem to develop the Diploma ““ have determined what the students on these courses will have to know and undertake. The organisations, ranging from educators through universities and all the way to the employers, have established the broad structure and framework of what the first five Diplomas will cover and the knowledge, skills and understanding they will be need to show at the three levels at which the Diplomas will be available.

Each Diploma will incorporate elements of generic learning including English, maths, IT user skills, a project, personal learning and thinking skills and work experience. There will in addition be other elements that are subject specific. The course will also be flexible from the learners” perspective, allowing them a certain degree of freedom to tailor the course to their own personal aspirations. This could allow them to expand their language skills, for instance, should they wish to add this to their skill set.

The initial development process will run until March of 2007, when the qualifications will be assessed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). It is intended that a total of 14 subjects will be available by 2013. Following the first five, a further five will be available from September 2009, in land-based and environmental studies; manufacturing; hair and beauty; business administration and finance; and hospitality and catering. In 2010 the portfolio will expand to include Diplomas in public services; sport and leisure; retail; and travel and tourism.


The Schools Minister, Jim Knight MP, said: “This is an exciting time for education. The first Diplomas are really taking shape and they provide a vision of the future of learning for 14-19 year olds. A growing sense of momentum is building within schools and colleges who are keen to get on with delivering reforms. The Diplomas will offer all students a real alternative to the traditional route and it is extremely encouraging that every single area of the country has already expressed an interest in offering the Diplomas when they are ready for teaching in 2008.

“In the past work related learning has been developed in isolation of business – we have broken that mould and we are clear that partnership is the key to success,” he continued. “For the first time employers have been seriously engaged in the development of qualifications from the start and the Diplomas will offer them what they need – young people with superb reading, writing, maths and ICT skills, who are enthusiastic, willing to learn and come equipped with an understanding of their sector. There is a lot to do between now and 2008 but we are well placed to deliver these reforms.”

The Diplomas may prove to be a positive step once they are fully implemented. However, there will be a period of time spanning some years when the qualities of the qualifications will be questioned and when many will retain their belief that “A” Levels and GCSEs are the gold standard of qualifications. The addition of the A star grade at “A” Level will hardly serve to reinforce the reputation of the existing exams for 18 year olds, but they are possessed of a heritage and a name that is associated with quality, whatever the truth of the matter may be.

They are also reminiscent of other qualifications elsewhere in the world in as much as they contain a substantial quantity of general education and broader topic ranges than were previously the case. An optimist would look at this and say that this is in keeping with making sure that young adults have the widest possible knowledge and awareness as they enter the professional world. A pessimist would see a darker picture, where the Diplomas attempt to bridge the basic skills gap that survey after survey find to exist in numeracy and literacy.

Jethro Marsh

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