Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Diplomas are moving in the right direction

There is a lot of sniffiness in the papers today about the content of the new Diplomas. The Daily Mail groans that those taking land-based studies could become customer advisers in garden centres. The Times sniffs that hospitality students will learn to "meet and greet customers in a responsible way". And never to be outdone, the Daily Telegraph scoffs that teenagers on hair and beauty courses will learn about the world of spas.

But what such sneering shows is how out of touch our newspapers seem to be about business needs today. I am heartened that there appears to be so much practical and relevant content in the Diplomas. There is a strong emphasis on the social skills so vital in the services sector. And Diplomas should be preparing young people for today's jobs, not the jobs that were relevant in the 1940s or 1840s, where some newspapers believe vocational education should exist. There are jobs in garden centres, hotels and spas; or, do news editors never read their own endless lifestyle and travel supplements each weekend? For youngsters who are not academically minded, it makes sense to produce qualifications that are related to today's growing service industries.

If there is a complaint about Diplomas - which have 20,000 rather than the originally forecast 40,000 students taking them - it is that they are not work-related enough. They should have more relevant practical content with real employers, not less. And Ed Balls should scrap his academic diplomas, which are both confusing and pointless; if he wants a genuinely mixed diploma, he should promote rather than sideline the International Baccalaureate alongside A-levels. But the specifications for the second batch of the new Diplomas are a sign that they are heading in the right direction, not a cause for condescension.

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