Tuesday 23 October 2007

Elevating diplomas

Today's announcement by Ed Balls that there will be three additional Diplomas - in humanities, science and the arts - and that there will be no review of the existing qualifications in 2008, is a clever way out of a tricky dilemma for the Government. When Ruth Kelly announced that she would not be accepting the Tomlinson idea of a 'unified 14-19 learning framework' with a single Diploma for all, she promised a review in 2008. Having one would have destroyed any chance the Government had to sell its new Diplomas, and enabled the education world to play merry hell for another year. By bringing Mike Tomlinson, as well as some Russell Group universities, on board for the Diplomas, Balls has snookered those who still hanker after the Tomlinson model (pdf). But he now has a real task selling the Diplomas to parents and students, and it is now time for some plain speaking. Balls is right when he says
“If Diplomas are successfully introduced and are delivering the mix that employers and universities value, they could become the qualification of choice for young people. But, because GCSEs and A-Levels are long-established and valued qualifications, that should not be decided by any pre-emptive Government decision, but by the demands of young people, schools and colleges.”
But the Government needs to be much clearer in selling the different Diplomas about what each is for. That means an end to the paranoia about adjectives like 'vocational' or 'specialised' to describe them. It means openly saying that a level 3 engineering diploma is good enough for university, but that most taking a hair and beauty level 2 will want to go on to work. In other words, it's time to ditch the jargon, and be clear about the product. Otherwise, the danger is that the problems inherent in the 'unified 14-19 learning framework' will become the problem with Diplomas.

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