Ok, I’m stumped. I have to admit that these new qualifications are confusing – I’m a product of GCSEs, A Levels and a Degree from a good university. I never tried to understand NVQs, GNVQs or BTECs, I never needed to, so the world of vocational qualifications is a little outside of my realm of experience. It seems that these Diplomas are intended to be more than just a vocational qualification though, and that’s where it gets complicated.
In my quest to understand ‘current educational issues’ I read this, this, this and even this in order to better understand these Diploma things. I’ve come to this conclusion – the government intends them to be the be all and end all of educational qualifications at the earliest possible opportunity. The foundation diploma is ‘worth’ about 4/5 GCSEs and can be done at age 14, as can the higher diploma, which is ‘worth’ about 5/6. The Advanced diploma is the A Level alternative and is ‘worth’ three A Levels. There is also a progression diploma, which is worth just two A Levels. The government has also recently announced an extended diploma – and to be honest I’m not entirely sure I know what to make of that. Perhaps that would be worth 4 A levels? Or maybe a full set of GCSEs?
As far as content is concerned, these diplomas will contain a bit of everything and will attempt to combine traditional GCSEs and A Levels with more vocational courses. There are 5 diplomas currently available, in IT, Engineering, Creative and Media, Society, Health and Development and Construction and the Built Environment. They will combine classroom teaching in necessary subjects, as well as functional numeracy and literacy, with experience in employment. There are more to come, with the planned implementation of ‘academic’ diplomas in maths, science and languages – is it just me or does that sound like a direct replacement for A Levels?
This diploma system has ousted the governments former pledge to offer the International Baccalaureate as an alternative for all school children. Personally, I believe the IB is a tried, tested and proven system which gives a well rounded education and allows for good educational and career progression. I’m concerned that kids who take up these new diplomas will be cutting their options – a diploma in engineering, for example, probably won’t include the hard maths that’s a prerequisite for an engineering degree, nor will the IT diploma provide the necessary maths for a degree in Computer Science. I’m also concerned that students taking diplomas in the ‘softer’ subjects, such as Creative and Media’ will be cutting their university choices in half – the best universities already don’t look favourably on subjects such as media studies.
If their goal is to get more young people into universities I’m not sure this is the way to do it. Universities whose degrees are worth having have high entrance requirements for a reason and they are slow to accept change.
On the other hand we are short of social workers and carers, people who can sort out your computer when it goes on the blink (i.e. IT technicians rather than computer scientists) could be considered as highly useful and there is always a place for creative workers. The country doesn’t need an endless supply of graduates, but nor do we need manual workers, we need plumbers, construction workers and staff to man the endless number of call centres. These jobs need numeracy, literacy and IT skills, so if the new diplomas can provide us with young people with the necessary skills then perhaps there’s a place for them after all.