Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 13:58 UK

Rural Diplomas to get extra help

Diplomas will not just be taught in the traditional classroom

Pupils on Diploma courses in rural areas of England may have to board at alternative learning centres far from home, a government report has warned.

The nature of the courses, to be rolled out from September 2008, mean children will have to move between schools, colleges and the workplace.

The report found rural schools faced extra barriers as distances between them were much greater than in towns.

The government has announced a 23m package to help with their extra costs.

The report, Delivering 14-19 reforms in rural areas, highlights "particular challenges" for schools offering the new Diplomas in non-urban areas.

A person may have to travel to a school or college that is the fourth or fifth nearest to them
Department for Children, Schools and Families report

As a result, at first fewer rural areas will be offering the new qualification which combines practical and theoretical learning and guarantees at least 10 days of structured work experience per year.

However, nearly a fifth of 14 and 15-year-olds in England's state schools live in rural areas.

The challenges singled out by the government report include costly, unreliable and less frequent transport and excessive journey times.

The report said only 29% of pupils in rural areas lived within 15 minutes of their nearest schools compared with 77% in London.

But Diplomas require schools, colleges and work-based learning providers to work together to deliver all Diploma lines to young people.

"This means a person may have to travel to a school or college that is the fourth or fifth nearest to them.

"In rural areas distances between school tend to be two to three times those in urban areas, rising to five or six times in the most rural areas, meaning young people may have to travel further and for longer," it added.

This could be particularly problematic for the high levels of pupils from deprived backgrounds who "may find more costly travel over longer distances to access Diplomas a substantial barrier".

'New challenges'

It also notes that the engagement of employers, which is seen as key to the success of Diplomas, is potentially more difficult in rural areas because they are likely to be smaller businesses who may not be able to afford the overheads.

The report offers a range of solutions to the problems including boarding provision and block timetabling of courses.

It suggests single employers could be involved in more than one Diploma line and that teachers and learning provision could be made more mobile.

In response to the findings, ministers have announced a 23m package to help with transport costs and fund extra equipment in 20 rural areas.

England's Minister for Schools and Learners Jim Knight said: "If our young people are to meet the increased demands of higher education and tomorrow's workplace, the days of spending a whole week learning in the classroom are over."

'Cast adrift'

"The Diploma's unique mix of theory and practice provided in schools and colleges means new challenges but it is an essential investment for our children's future," Mr knight said.

"We must ensure that in the longer term local communities have the right plans in place to make sure every young person can take advantage of new courses which bring learning to life."

The report was published as a separate report by London University's Institute of Education warned that the advent of the Diploma risked worsening the divide between vocational and academic education.

This was partly because many independent schools are now offering a new range of qualifications including the International Baccalaureate and the Cambridge Pre-U.

But there were also concerns about a lower level of learning called the Foundation Learning Tier for pupils deemed incapable of taking GCSEs or Diplomas.

The authors said there was a danger they could be "cast adrift" from the mainstream of learning because they are not on a mainstream education route.

And the Guardian newspaper claims that leading private schools are refusing to adopt the new Diploma because it was too complex and unworkable in a fee-paying system.

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