Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Thursday, 17 April 2008 12:33 UK

Flaws 'could sink diploma scheme'

exam room
The government says the diploma will provide 'exciting opportunities'

The government's flagship new Diploma qualification for England risks failing if flaws are not ironed out, an exam board head has warned.

Edexcel chief Jerry Jarvis told the Guardian teachers had not had enough training and there were fears it would prove too demanding for students.

The government said this was an "absurd misrepresentation of the truth".

Ministers say the Diploma, combining practical skills with theory, could eventually replace A-levels and GCSEs.

The first students are due to begin diploma courses in September, but the programme is being rolled out gradually over five years.

Mr Jarvis told the newspaper he supported the Diploma but that its introduction could prove "traumatic".

He said: "If the Diploma doesn't earn its spurs as a qualification, and that means respect from employers, pupils, parents and higher education, we face a serious problem. There is a huge educational risk to this country."

John Bangs of the NUT on Diplomas

He said teachers would have had only three days' training before the roll-out in September.

And no decision had been made on how to teach the "functional skills" part of the qualification - a combination of English and maths skills which aims to equip youngster for tasks such as calculating a mortgage.

He added that, because the diploma was broader than traditional exams, with students required to pass all elements, many could end up with no qualifications because they had failed a particular element, such as French, or maths.

'Nonsense'

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said: "There are details to address with any new programme but to suggest diplomas are in 'disarray' or 'worthless' is complete and utter nonsense."

Schools minister Jim Knight said the diploma had received widespread support from schools, colleges and employers and would provide exciting opportunities for young people.

He said: "There are challenges ahead but the Education and Skills Select Committee, National Audit Office and other independent bodies have confirmed that we are on track to successfully deliver the first five diplomas in 2008."

It is very worrying that such a senior figure is expressing such concern about the government's flagship diplomas
Nick Gibb, Shadow Schools Minister

A statement from Edexcel released by the DCSF said: "It is natural at this stage for there to be some implementation issues to address and we will continue to work closely with the DCSF and all the partners to ensure they are addressed".

Edexcel, which owns the BTec qualification, said it had invested heavily in the new diploma.

It is thought BTecs and City and Guilds could be subsumed in Diplomas as the system is streamlined.

In a survey by the National Union of Teachers of its members in schools preparing to teach the diploma, 54% said they had not received "clear, unambiguous" information on how to teach the courses.

Diplomas - key facts
Aim to mix practical and academic learning
Run alongside other qualifications at first
Ed Balls says he hopes they become "qualification of choice"
First wave taught from Sept 2008
Five subject areas for 2008: creative and media, information technology, health and social care, construction and the built environment and engineering
Second wave begins 2009: land-based & environmental, manufacturing, hair & beauty, business administration & finance and hospitality & catering
2010: public services, sport & leisure, retail and travel & tourism added
By 2013 All Diplomas should be available to all

Head teachers - who have also raised concerns about the introduction of Diplomas - suggest the criticisms are being overstated.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders said: "It is doing a disservice to schools and colleges to say that students' education may be put at risk.

"Those that are offering the diplomas from September are working incredibly hard and will make sure that they are ready to deliver. They would not offer the diplomas if they thought it would jeopardize students' education.

"There are still many details to resolve regarding the Diplomas before September but they are not insurmountable and this certainly doesn't equate to potential failure."

And the teachers' union the NASUWT criticised Edexcel for scaremongering and said it had pressed for and secured some important changes.

Chris Keates, the union's general secretary said: "This attack on the government's 14-19 reforms perhaps needs considered in the context that A-levels and GCSEs are a nice little earner for the exam boards.

"The best way to make sure that the diplomas work is not to add more pressure on teachers and schools by scaremongering and causing panic."

Qualifications maze

Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "It is very worrying that such a senior figure is expressing such concern about the government's flagship Diplomas.

"We want the new vocational Diplomas to work so that there is a high quality alternative for those children that don't want to study academic qualifications.

"But if Ed Balls does not get these reforms right, a whole generation of children will be let down."

Liberal Democrat education spokesman David Laws said the criticisms by Mr Jarvis were fair and that the government was creating a "grotesquely confusing qualifications maze".

"The government has chosen such a complex and muddled structure for the Diploma that there must be real concerns that take-up is going to be far lower than ministers hoped for," he said.

"Ed Balls should now seriously consider introducing a simpler General Diploma, retaining GCSEs and A-levels as building blocks of this diploma."


SEE ALSO
Diplomas begin replacing A-levels
31 Mar 08 |  Education
Where learning strategy takes us
01 Apr 08 |  Education
Parents are 'baffled by Diplomas'
19 Mar 08 |  Education
Diploma success 'to end A-levels'
08 Mar 08 |  Education
Heads' tough warning on Diploma
07 Mar 08 |  Education
Q&A: Diplomas in England
07 Mar 08 |  Education

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