From education to employment

MPs call for the government to clarify details over its new diploma for 14-19 year olds

The government has defended the roll out of new diplomas for 14 to 19-year-olds after a Commons report criticised them as being over-complicated.

In its fifth report on the issue, the Education and Skills Committee expressed disappointment that the government chose to disregard proposals by Sir Mike Tomlinson for a unified, overarching diploma award in favour of a multi-levelled system.

MPs noted that Tomlinson’s proposals had a high degree of support and that they held promise that they would create a less hierarchical, less complex and a more coherent qualification for young people. They questioned whether the government’s new diploma would only make the system more confused.

“We remain concerned that the Government’s decision to introduce 14 new discrete Diplomas, each at three different levels, has the potential to compound existing problems of over-complexity and stratification of qualifications, and may just cement existing hierarchies,” said the committee.

Commenting on the Commons committee report, the government rejected criticisms of its new vocational diplomas.

“We believe that far from compounding over-complexity, Diplomas will provide a coherent and clear set of choices for young people alongside the A Level and apprenticeship routes.

“Whilst Sir Mike Tomlinson himself would acknowledge his disappointment that we did not implement in full his proposals, he recognises that we are implementing the majority and have gone further in some respects.”

The government dismissed fears over quality and said that it was working with employers in developing the qualification and that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority would ensure their quality.

They also detailed plans to promote the new qualification following criticism in August from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). At the time, Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI blasted the government for failing to properly inform employers about the proposed changes. He commented that the diplomas would not deliver if the government did not do more to promote them.

With the new diplomas set to gradually roll out from next year, MPs expressed concern that they were not ready to be introduced and that the government had not completely clarified what the diplomas are designed to achieve.

For its part, the government said that 2008 would be the beginning of a pilot scheme before the full introduction of the new qualification in 2013. From 2008, the diplomas will be evaluated over three academic years from 2008″“11, 2009″“12 and 2010″“13.

Schools and colleges will be allowed to decide what diplomas, if any, they want to use during the roll out phase and when they might be ready to do so.

In their report, MPs also questioned the government’s decision to review A-levels separately from other qualifications. Calling it a missed opportunity, the committee urged the government to reconsider its decision to evaluate A-levels in isolation. MPs said that considering A-levels in their wider context, particularly in light of the new diplomas would prove more useful.

The government conceded little ground on the issue but said that they would consider the committee’s recommendation as the 2008 review progressed.

Matthew Sharp

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