First, the good news. The number of pupils studying for the new diploma will more than triple this September, according to estimates that suggest the qualification is making progress despite criticism from education experts and business leaders.

Diploma students are likely to number 40,000 this September, according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, up from 12,000 when they were introduced last autumn but still not up to the 50,000 target initially envisaged at their launch. In addition, a new report for the Government, released this week, says that HEIs of all kinds are well-informed about Diplomas and moreover largely sympathetic to them. The Diplomas reputation should be strengthened by the clear finding that HE senior managers in all types of institution are according applicants holding Diplomas at Level 3 the same status as A level students. With the exception of one, a ‘research-intensive’ university, senior managers in all institutions indicated that they expected to follow the UCAS tariff in regarding an Advanced Diploma as equivalent in ‘size’ and ‘status’ to 3.5 A levels. In addition, most managers and admissions tutors saw the nature of the Diploma qualification as both a specialised pathway into undergraduate study and as suitable for a wider range of courses.

Now for the bad news .Although many second tier universities will welcome the Diploma as it stands the higher echelon research universities are less sure. The report by NFER and Exeter University found that ‘ The ‘research intensive’ institutions are more likely to examine closely the academic rigour of Diploma content and less likely to assume that Diploma study will turn out to have been adequate preparation for HE entry . The report also found that ‘The ‘research-intensive’ universities are more likely to examine closely the academic rigour of Diploma content; linked to this, comparatively lower levels of support for Diplomas among academic staff at this early stage were also noted in these universities. By contrast, in ‘teaching-led’ institutions it was reported that there was generally strong internal support for Diplomas. There are clear danger signs here with top universities apparently hedging their bets on the Diploma Moreover the research showed most universities will demand that students take at least one A-level on top of the diploma before being considered.

So, The fact is the best Universities don’t yet buy the Diploma. Pupils taking an engineering diploma will be required to take an A-level in mathematics before being allowed onto a maths degree course at most institutions, the study said. Almost all universities said students would have to take an A-level to top-up the diploma course. It comes despite the fact that one diploma is already said to be worth three and a half A-levels. One university said students taking the new health diploma would also be required to take an A-level in human biology before being considered for a nursing degree. A teenager taking a diploma in media would also have to study A-level English before being admitted to an English degree course. Universities also estimated that only 10 diploma students would be recruited to each institution in 2010 – when most students complete the sixth-form version of the course.

 Tory policy on the Diplomas is that in principle they welcome the vocationally oriented Diplomas though not the academically oriented ones. However they also believe that the Government has badly mishandled their launch- and they don’t view them as the ultimate replacement for GCSEs and A levels .Many Tories also privately express grave reservations over their robustness and costs reinforced by the fact that the independent sector is largely ignoring them. Report.


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