Reforms bring patchy results
The Diplomas, introduced in September 2008, combine theoretical study with practical learning, and are the most substantial element of the 14–19 reforms.
The largest component of the Diploma – the principal learning – is the specialist subject content, such as engineering or creative & media. However, crucially, students must also complete functional skills (English, mathematics and ICT), a project, 10 days’ work experience, and a unit of additional or specialised learning intended to complement or extend the specialist subject work.
Critics have already pointed out that the work experience doesn’t have to be directly related to the Diploma being studied. Low take up, just 12,000 in the first year against the initial 50,000 target and relatively poor awareness of the qualification among teachers, pupils parents and even some careers advisers , has blighted the launch of the new qualification.
The independent sector has yet to give the qualification its approval and the best universities have yet to offer the qualification their unqualified support.
Ofsted’s report on Diplomas released this week though generally positive shows patchy results. True, progress in introducing the main subject learning in the Diplomas was good or better in 14 courses and satisfactory in the remaining 11 courses observed. But, other elements of the Diploma, and particularly the functional skills of English, mathematics and ICT, need to improve significantly. The report states ‘ In contrast to the principal learning component of the Diplomas, work in functional skills lacked coordination in just under half the consortia visited and, as a result, the quality of teaching and learning varied considerably. In view of the centrality of functional skills within the future 14–19 curriculum generally, as well as the role of functional skills as an integral part of the Diplomas, this is a key area for development. The additional and specialised learning element of the Diploma also needed greater attention to provide a wider range of relevant options for students. At this early stage, many of the young people thought of the Diploma as just their principal learning and did not fully appreciate how all the different elements constituted the full qualification.’
However, the level of collaboration between schools, colleges and other partners was an impressive feature of many of the consortia, noted the inspectors.
Inspectors found too that the overall quality of information, advice and guidance for young people was good in most of the areas visited, as it was in the first year of the survey .But , although 14–19 web-based prospectuses were operational in all of the areas, in most cases they were underused within programmes of advice and guidance. Progress in introducing the new National Standards for information, advice and guidance was slow. And worryingly the choice of Diploma subjects was frequently along traditional gender lines.
The tenor of the report is, as stated, generally positive, but it is clear that Diplomas have some bedding in problems, which is no surprise, and have not been helped in their journey to establish their credibility by a botched launch. Though supposed to replace GCSEs and A levels their longer term future is not absolutely assured, particularly as the Tories have reservations about many aspects of the new qualification and are committed to dropping the more academically oriented Diplomas.