Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Wednesday, 28 March 2007 14:41 UK

New Diplomas move a step closer

exam room
Diploma pupils will still need maths and English

The biggest shake-up of England's exam system for a generation has come a step closer, with the announcement of who will help bring in the new Diplomas.

The government has named the 145 consortia of schools, colleges or other groups charged with introducing the new practical qualifications from 2008.

The Diplomas are designed to mix academic and vocational qualifications, alongside GCSEs and A-levels.

The first will be in construction, engineering, health, IT and media.

The 145 groups of schools, colleges and training providers announced cover 97 local authority areas in England and will have Diplomas ready for 2008.

A further 197 consortia have been given provisional approval to deliver the new qualifications in September 2009.

Mix of vocational and academic

The Education Secretary Alan Johnson said Diplomas would be an attractive and flexible option for young people.

"They are just one part of our plans to encourage more young people to stay in education and training. With fewer low-skilled jobs, we need more high-skilled young people," he said.

Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson: "Diplomas will be the missing link"

"Diplomas will provide the missing link - creating the mix of vocational and academic education which we've lacked for so long.

"Their introduction is one of the most radical educational developments taking place anywhere in the world and we are putting funding, energy and commitment into making them a reality."

Young people studying for the Diplomas will have to pass qualifications in maths and English. They will do significant amounts of work-experience.

Three levels

There will be three levels of Diploma: level 1 is equivalent to four or five GCSE passes and level 2 is equivalent to five or six GCSE passes at grade A* to C.

The government says level 3 is equivalent to three A-levels and will be accepted by universities and colleges, as well as allowing students to go directly into work if appropriate.

It has set aside 90m of central funding to help regional consortia design the detail of the new qualifications in each area.

Each successful consortium of schools and colleges preparing for 2008 will receive 30,000 for each type of Diploma they will offer, to help them train and recruit staff.

There will also be funding for staff training for consortia who plan to deliver in 2009 and beyond, officials say.

Schools and colleges may lack sufficient time to prepare
National Association of Head Teachers

Head teachers are worried about the timescale and the funding of the changes. The National Association of Head Teachers said in a statement: "Schools and colleges may lack sufficient time to prepare for the new style of qualification.

"This is an exciting development, welcomed by the association.

"Its development must not be stifled or even halted by lack of sufficient funds."

Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, a union representing teachers in the UK said: "The announcement of the first gateway consortia is an important step forward in the process of securing greater opportunity for young people.

"These are important reforms which are intended to address a major generational problem of non-participation in education and training post-16."

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