Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Ministers are out of focus on Diplomas

While the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has not been sharing his economic history lessons with the general public, in the day job he has been looking for ways to beef up the Diplomas, the hybrid of academic and vocational qualifications that have so far attracted just 12,000 students.

Today, the government has started to give details of its diplomas in humanities, languages and sciences which the DCSF tells us will teach young people how to speak a foreign language and how to take part in business meetings in a foreign language; study how species interact and ecosystems change and set up a conservation programme or recycling scheme and examine its environmental impact; and get involved in a local policy issue, like the development of a new hospital and understand how to make it happen. Despite a few endorsements on the press release, there is little evidence these diplomas are meeting unmet need.

But today's announcement tells us nothing about the numbers of students who will take Diplomas, particularly at A-level (level 3) standard, this coming September. And there has been far too little effort made to explain the benefits in simple terms to students and teachers. One would think that every effort should be made to win new takers, particularly as the new Apprenticeships bill with its rights to apprenticeships and presumptions about careers advice is likely to draw those who want a vocational qualification towards that route.

But rather than focus on explaining the distinct choices available to young people - A level or GCSE, Diplomas, Apprenticeships and the IB - the DCSF has withdrawn the limited support given to schools and colleges wanting to adopt the tried, tested and trusted International Baccalaureate (IB), which requires all its students to learn a language and learn about science, as well as taking part in an active citizenship project. Hence these academic diplomas.

Ministers need to get the original Diplomas right before pushing ahead with academic diplomas. And they need to ensure that parents, pupils and teachers understand them if they are to succeed. Confusing the picture with these extra Diplomas is a funny way of going about it.

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