Select Committee on Education and Skills Fifth Special Report

Appendix 1

Government's response to the Fifth Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2006-07

The Committee's conclusions and recommendations are in bold text. The Government's response is in plain text.

Recommendation 1 and 2 (grouped)

1.  The disappointment many expressed after the Government decided not to fully implement Tomlinson's proposals—which had strong support—has not yet dissipated. Like others at the time, we felt that the creation of the unified, overarching Diploma award proposed by Tomlinson held the promise of a less hierarchical, less complex, and ultimately more coherent qualification system for young people. We remain concerned that the Government's decision to introduce 14 new discrete Diplomas, each at three different levels, has the potential to compound existing problems of over-complexity and stratification of qualifications, and may just cement existing hierarchies.

2.  One of Tomlinson's achievements was establishing a large and pressing consensus for change. This still exists. Now the Government has embarked on its chosen route, most appear to be taking the pragmatic and positive stance that what is important is ensuring the Diplomas are of a high quality, and are a complete success. We understand and welcome that approach, but we believe that the changes to the 14-19 curriculum would have been better structured and more coherent had Tomlinson's proposals been adopted.

We fully acknowledge Sir Mike's achievements, and have built on his major recommendations, such as need for a strong core to all young people's learning, increasing stretch and challenge at all levels and a radical transformation of the vocational pathways available to young people. Whilst Sir Mike Tomlinson himself would acknowledge his disappointment that we did not implement in full his proposals, he recognises that we are implementing the majority and have gone further in some respects e.g. reform of KS3.

We believe that far from compounding over-complexity, Diplomas will provide a coherent and clear set of choices for young people alongside the A Level and apprenticeship routes.

3.  There is an enduring risk that a programme as complicated as Diplomas could face problems and it would have been disingenuous for the Minister to pretend that this was not the case. However, having made the decision to pursue the line it has taken, the very least that can be expected is for the Government to invest its full energy into making the reforms work. It is now imperative that ministers deliver strong leadership, by displaying the courage to intervene swiftly to address identified problems and showing public commitment to producing programmes of the highest quality.

The Government is fully committed to the Diplomas initiative. And the Government is not alone—a great many people across the spectrum, from employers to teachers, support the Diplomas and want to make them work. Involving so many people in different ways makes for a major, complex and radical reform. We were, and are, under no illusions. Changing the face of 14-19 learning in this way was never going to be easy, but despite the scale, we are on track to deliver.

We should also reflect on how far we've come in such a short time. Qualification development is not easy. Despite tight timescales, all qualifications have been delivered on time. This is a testament to the dedication and expertise of all partners who have worked effectively together to endorse, submit and accredit them so that we will soon have real qualifications that people will be able to see and a real programme of development to support delivery.

Ministers keep a constant check on progress, taking account of all aspects of the work, so that I can be confident that it is coming together in the right way. We have systems, operating across our partners, to constantly review our state of readiness and assess the level of risk associated with first teaching in 2008.

The size of the task shouldn't deflect us from the goal—a uniquely coherent qualification, designed by employers—which will improve the life chances of many learners.

4.  Our view is that the Government's decision to consider A levels in isolation in its 2008 review is a missed opportunity. More would be gained from considering A levels in their wider context, and in particular, in the light of experience of the Diplomas, which will have just started in September 2008. We would urge the Government to consider rescheduling the review and changing its terms of reference so that it can consider A levels in their wider context and after more known about how Diplomas are working in practice.

We are aware of the issues in relation to the proposed A level review and will take account of the views reflected in the Select Committee's report as we take the review forward.

5.  It is far from clear that those in charge of developing the different Diplomas share a common understanding of the kinds of learning they will demand and the purposes they will serve. We welcome the introduction of more practical learning into the curriculum but there is a risk that the pressure over time will be to introduce more and more desk-based, theoretical material into practical, vocational curricula in pursuit of parity with academic qualifications. It is important that this is guarded against in the case of the Diplomas, and we will be looking for evidence that the new programmes contain sufficient practical content to motivate and appeal to learners who may be ill-served by academic courses.

We are confident that those in charge of developing the Diploma share a common vision of Diplomas. Diplomas will be a unique blend of theoretical and practical learning that gives young people the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge which are truly relevant and really valued by employers, and which will help them continue in learning to the highest level they can achieve.

The mandatory principal learning component of the Diploma states that at each level, a minimum of 50% must be concerned with the application of skills and knowledge through tasks, problems and situations that are related to work in that sector. Assessment approaches must reflect the applied.

6.  The DfES must ensure there is a real, shared understanding of the kinds of learning and teaching that Diplomas will involve among those responsible for their design, development and delivery. Consensus on this should have been established at the outset and the failure to do this it is a matter of deep concern to us. Secondly, and with some urgency, the Department must decide on a coherent and easily communicable definition of Diplomas. Communications must not further complicate what is already a complicated award, and must encapsulate what is different and distinctive about Diplomas, compared to existing routes.

The Government recognises the importance of developing a clear shared understanding of what is distinct and different about the applied learning route that Diplomas offer. We have been working closely with a range of partners in developing the Diplomas to make sure that Diplomas will offer a genuine and attractive alternative to traditional learning routes for 14-19 year olds.

There has been a lot of good work done already to inform and raise awareness amongst all audiences, using various innovative methods. These include appearances on Teachers TV which have been very well received, and excellent work by the DDPs, such as the DVD produced for the Construction and Built Environment Diploma. We are sending monthly newsletters to partner organisations, delivery consortia and HE institutions. We also provide updates on our website. We have held nationwide and regional conferences to get our message across, and we have core messages agreed by all partners and used in communications and presentations.

Inevitably the language of qualification development has been technical, but now that we are a stage where it is appropriate to communicate more widely about Diplomas, particularly to young people and their parents, we will bring the Diploma to life through illustrative case studies and clear examples of progression routes. We have already produced a short leaflet on Diplomas that has had widespread coverage, and materials for schools and colleges to use in their own marketing. At national level we will reinforce local activity with national and regional marketing.

 We will be monitoring awareness and understanding of Diplomas through a tracking survey every six months.

7.  It is absolutely essential that the first Diploma cohort is very limited in size, and that thereafter expansion takes place at a slow and controlled rate, with sufficient time for development and assessment. Too often in the past, initiatives have been rolled out too quickly, with serious negative effects on quality. The Government says it will place quality above all other considerations, and intends to take a measured approach: we very much welcome this, and will look for evidence that this is happening in practice.

A key element of the Diplomas is the planned management of the roll-out in a gradual way, ahead of full delivery in 2013.

The Department is committed to securing the highest quality consortia to deliver the Diploma from 2008.

In the first phase, announced on 28 March, there will be 145 consortia across 97 Local Authorities, delivering 250 diploma lines from September 2008. The number of forecast learners is 38,000. Ten consortia will be delivering all five diploma lines from 2008. This represents less than 25% of the bids submitted. A further 112 consortia were recommended for deferred approval to deliver in 2009. The remainder, representing around half the bids, would need to reapply. The applications were subject to a thorough assessment to ensure that only the highest quality were successful. The Department is providing extensive support and training to consortia to ensure that they deliver the highest quality from day one.

We will also be evaluating the first year of the Gateway process in designing arrangements for future years. At present we envisage further Gateway exercises, although the details will be dependent on the results of the evaluation and the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review. We are looking at options for staging the rollout arrangements up to 2013.

8.  The Diploma development process has clearly been frustrating for many of those involved, and it is commendable that progress has been made in spite of this. The new Diploma development partnership approach—with Sector Skills Councils and employers in the lead—has been experimental, and also highly complex, on account of the number of players involved. At the same time, we are concerned that there appears to have been too little direct involvement in or feedback from small and medium-sized employers who have an important part to play in setting a climate of business acceptance of the new Diplomas. We recommend focused attention is given to involving them more prior to the launch of the pilots.

The Government recognises the importance of involving SMEs as we move forward with Diplomas. Involving and engaging SMEs is key to both business acceptance of the Diplomas and delivery of work-related learning elements within Diplomas.

SMEs have been engaged through the DDPs, have responded to consultation questionnaires and attended events, and are represented individually or through various professional associations. Phase 1 and 2 are in the process of developing and delivering employer engagement strategies and SMEs are a key target group.

9.  The question remains as to whether more use could and should have been made of existing 'tried and tested' qualifications such as BTECs at the outset. What appears to have happened is that a 'blank slate' approach has been adopted, with the promise that convergence between the Diplomas and other awards would occur at a later stage. While we appreciate that the aim was to create something new and radical, this nevertheless seems wasteful to us and makes it likely that old lessons will have to be learned again. We urge DfES and the awarding bodies to develop urgently a strategy to make clear how existing qualifications can fold into and relate to the new Diplomas, and to spell out the equivalence and transfer possibilities of existing qualifications.

We did not start out by requiring or expecting that all Diplomas would be designed from scratch as wholly new programmes, rather than utilising existing qualifications. Indeed, it was our expectation that DDPs in at least some sectors would want to make considerable use of units and content from existing qualifications. The first five DDPs reached the conclusion that starting from scratch was the right thing to do in order to make the most of the opportunity, and we warmly welcome the innovative and engaging content that has emerged as a result on the Principal Learning component of the Diploma.

We recognise that many employers, providers and young people value some existing vocational qualifications. While it is essential to retain the purpose of Diplomas as education programmes, we do not want to lose the characteristics of those vocational qualifications which make them motivating for young people and valued by employers. So we are currently working with the QCA to map the current qualification offer against Diplomas to consider how we may retain those positive features and elements of vocational qualifications within the Diploma structure.

10.  It is a matter of concern that awarding bodies have been given such little time to turn the specifications from the first five Diploma Development Partnerships into workable qualifications which are tied to coherent learning programmes. As with teachers and lecturers, awarding bodies should have been more consistently involved in development work from an early stage; had they been, it is possible that some of the problems that later arose—for example, the unexpected reworking of Diploma content which was undertaken in order to bring about consistency across Diploma lines-could perhaps have been avoided.

We have always listened carefully to what the awarding bodies, alongside other partners, have to say. In the development process we have brought them into the programme structures, addressing many of their concerns, and we will continue to engage in discussion with them, to maintain their commitment and maximise our chances of getting the reforms right.

11.  As it stands, very complicated and detailed work has, in the case of the first five Diploma lines, been uncomfortably compressed. We very much hope that the learning programmes and qualifications which emerge will be of a high-enough quality to be accepted by the groups that matter: students, employers, HE and, of course, those who will deliver them—teachers and lecturers. Understandably given that awarding bodies began qualification development so late in the day, awarding arrangements and longer-term quality assurance procedures are not yet well developed.

QCA has played a key role in making sure the essential high quality of learning programmes and qualifications is delivered for the first five Diploma lines by instigating a rigorous quality process with awarding bodies.

This has involved QCA in early and on-going dialogue with awarding bodies to provide support and guidance during the qualification development process. To make sure this guidance was robust; subject sector experts were engaged via the Association of Colleges. This dialogue has been further supported by a review panel for each line of learning which included individuals experienced in the delivery of qualifications, QCA and the Diploma Development Partnerships. QCA have also taken views from the HE community to make sure that the Diploma will enable progression to an HE programme of study.

12.  It also appears that although full pilots for certain elements of the Diplomas—such as the functional skills units—will have begun in September 2007, the full evaluation of the pilots will not be complete before first teaching begins in September 2008. This is a matter of concern given previous commitments the Government has made to this Committee about ensuring qualifications are properly piloted and evaluated before implementation. We would urge that when the evaluation of the pilots is complete, urgent consideration be given as to whether the current split of the proposed 14 Diplomas into three sub-sets of qualification level, making 42 in all, is likely to prove unduly complex and jeopardise acceptance by employers, universities and others.

Each of the Diplomas will be evaluated over three academic years following their introduction, that is, from 2008-11, 2009-12 and 2010-13. Schools and colleges will need to decide at what point they will be ready to offer Diplomas. Those institutions wishing to offer one or several of the Diplomas in the pilot phase will need to pass through a gateway process, which will assess their readiness to do so and help them plan for the full introduction of Diplomas across their area

The Department has prepared a comprehensive evaluation framework to encompass the design, implementation and delivery of the Diploma. The evaluation will be carried out by independent researchers and will inform the roll out of Diplomas in readiness for the introduction of the national entitlement in 2013. The Department's 14-19 implementation plan set out the commitment to a three year programme of evaluation for each implementation phase of the Diplomas to allow analysis across each Diploma line of learning.

The evaluation will consider the policy impact of Diplomas: the extent to which the implementation of Diplomas succeeds in achieving progress towards key targets of participation and attainment as well as providing an appropriate curriculum to meet the needs of young people and contribute to improving their ground in English, maths, ICT and skills for employment while also supporting progression to higher education. The other areas for evaluation include: considering the effectiveness of the Diploma design as a new type of qualification that will provides the skills and knowledge to meet the needs of young people, industry and higher education; assessing the implementation processes and understanding the factors that contribute to the outcomes associated with Diplomas; and the value that key stakeholders, including employers, higher education and young people and their parents come to place on the Diploma.

Although the evaluation is required to capture the impact of Diplomas from development to national entitlement, it will be phased so that regular reporting will inform both the development and implementation of subsequent phases and full roll out.

Functional skills will be piloted from 2007-09, but these qualifications have been trialled and evaluated and are accredited qualifications.

13.  We are concerned that in relation to some aspects of Diplomas—for example, on the issue of grading—there does not yet appear to be consensus between partners on the approach which should be taken, or even what still remains to be done. We believe it is important that the higher education sector should be more closely involved in this process, so that the acceptance of diplomas as an alternative pathway for some into HE is not compromised.

All partners are agreed that learner achievement in the Diploma will be graded. Once all the requirements have been met—i.e. all components have been achieved—a final grade will be calculated from the evidence of the principal learning and the project. In some cases there may be appropriate prior achievement of components.

QCA published a document in March, Assessing and grading of the Diploma, which set out the assessment principles for all levels of the Diploma.

HEIs are an integral part of the development of Diplomas. Each Diploma Development Partnership has had representatives from HE working with them as they have developed the content of the Diplomas and to ensure that the qualifications are designed with progression from Level 3 into higher education.

The HE Engagement Board is sponsoring a number of projects that will examine in some detail the progression from Diplomas to HE programmes. For example, the 1994 Group has a 12 month project to map Diplomas against HE curricula to identify gaps and changed skill sets, and to inform HE curriculum change. The information on the full Diploma qualification will be available in September 2007. HEIs will then be in a position to publish their indicative admissions policy in principle with regard to Diploma applicants for 2010 entry, and UCAS will commence the process of determining the tariff points for the Diplomas, the result of which will be known in early 2008.

14.  It is unfortunate that, given the obvious scale and complexity of the Diploma programme, coherent end-to-end management, governance and reporting arrangements were not established within the DfES from the outset. We believe that there was a failure to appreciate the sheer scale and complexity of the challenge in hand. Our understanding is that now—five months from the point where the awards should be ready and workforce development is due to begin—a permanent project manager for the Diplomas has finally been appointed, who will have oversight of all management aspects. We also recognise that new arrangements have been put in place at the senior strategic and governance level, whereby Chief Executives of all the relevant agencies—including awarding bodies—meet regularly. It is crucial too that regular ministerial input and oversight of the new management arrangements should remain at the strongest and highest level possible, to ensure that the priority and delivery of diplomas within the Department's overall workload does not slip.

We did not underestimate the scale of the challenge involved in delivering a programme of this nature successfully. This was a new and unprecedented programme of work when it was started. The initial set up was logical and sensible. As with any new programme, we kept the arrangements under review. 

There has always been a senior civil servant in charge of Diploma development. Management has always been part of a coherent end-to-end 14-19 programme. We have adapted and will continue to adapt our governance arrangements in the light of lessons learned.

We have always had robust plans and governance arrangements for the programme—and for Diplomas in particular—and we keep them continually under review. We adapt our approach where we identify gaps, and to ensure it is fit for purpose as we move through the phases of the programme.

We are confident that we have management structures in place which deliver good quality qualifications and an effective delivery infrastructure for the introduction of the Diplomas in 2008. We have a senior Project Manager with the authority to set work requirements across any part of the delivery chain, oversight by my officials at the highest level, and, most critically, genuine commitment from all partners to make this reform work.

15.  Given all the concerns that have been expressed to us about whether the Diplomas are ready to be introduced, and the uncertainty about what the Diplomas are designed to achieve—whether they are vocational or practical or academic—the initial phase is vitally important. The Secretary of State said in evidence that 2008 is the "pilot stream." The Government needs to ensure that it is genuinely a pilot, and if problems are not resolved, or if further problems emerge, then the wider roll out should be delayed or reviewed in order to prevent the failure of the Diplomas.

Each of the Diplomas will be evaluated over three academic years following their introduction, that is, from 2008-11, 2009-12 and 2010-13. Schools and colleges will need to decide whether they want to offer any Diplomas during roll out phase and at what point they will be ready to do so. Those institutions wishing to offer one or several of the Diplomas will need to pass through a gateway process, which will assess their readiness to do so and help them plan for the full introduction of Diplomas across their area.

16.  We have been impressed by the dedication and commitment shown by those who are already well advanced with collaborative work. It will be extremely important that the lessons of areas already working in this way are fully absorbed and effectively disseminated if Diplomas are to be successful. What is more, it is preferable that only those areas with significant experience of joint working to date are involved in the early stages of implementation.

It is good that the Committee has recognised the importance of collaboration so young people can be offered a good range of high-quality programmes. We have made available a good deal of good practice on partnership and collaborative working. The Committee referred to the popular programme of Learning Visits where those who are less well advanced can learn from those that are. We are extending this programme with those who have the most to do to be ready being prioritised for support.

The Gateway process has proved an effective way of ensuring that those institutions that are most experienced at working together to deliver quality applied education will go first. We have set up a Twinning Project between 2008 consortia and the Department which will help to further facilitate learning across the system. Lessons learned in the first years will be shared across all areas.

17.  While good practice exists, it is clear that many local areas are some way away from the kinds of working that will be required to successfully deliver Diplomas—especially, those which have not been involved in 14-19 Pathfinders. The National Audit Office is currently undertaking a review to establish the scale of preparedness and the barriers to implementation in local areas. This is extremely welcome and we would encourage the LSC and the DfES to take full heed of the findings in planning for Diploma implementation.

Like the Committee, we welcome the work that NAO are doing in this area. We have had initial conversations with NAO about their work, and have provided background information as requested. We will continue to support their review over the coming months and we look forward to receiving their report later in the year.

18.  It is vital that as many providers as possible in an area are actively and meaningfully involved in local 14-19 partnerships. The statutory requirement in the Education Act 2006 for schools to collaborate is very welcome for that reason. However, the effect of some other policy levers is contradictory. In particular, it is hard to see how individual institutional performance tables will offer a meaningful measure in a collaborative system, or immediately reward those that adopt a collegiate approach. If collaborative approaches to 14-19 provision are to become the norm, the Government needs to look again at the mechanisms for recognising achievements in collaborative provision. Existing tensions need to be resolved, or they risk seriously undermining the welcome messages in recent rhetoric about the importance of collaboration and the adoption of shared responsibility.

The greatest incentive to collaborate is the commitment to providing a clear choice of appropriate and high quality learning routes for young people. As the Committee has highlighted, lots of good collaboration exists already under the current arrangements. This is underpinned by the legislative entitlement, which places a duty on schools to provide access to the Diplomas and provides a further driver and guarantee for young people.

14-19 Partnerships will be made up of individual, autonomous institutions working together. Collaboration between such institutions will not be impeded by being held accountable for learner performance in the Achievement and Attainment Tables.

We believe that Diplomas will raise standards by providing a coherent learning programme that will engage a wide range of learners. Therefore schools and colleges will be incentivised to engage in collaborative arrangements to ensure their learners follow the most appropriate course; which will increase learner choice meaning better outcomes.

Results achieved by pupils will still be reported against the 'home' institution. In retaining individual institutional accountability, the home institution will be encouraged to ensure other provision within its consortium is of a high quality and raises standards. We are also looking at methods to ensure consortia based performance is of a high quality and consortia take collective responsibility for learner outcomes.

We are also developing the post-16 progression measure as a way of recognising schools for supporting their students to make good choices of post-16 courses and helping to make sure the whole cohort receives full and impartial information and guidance about their post compulsory options. This will encourage partnerships to think collectively about all the young people in their area, and work together to ensure they have access to the right provision and the support to make a good decision.

19 and 20 grouped

19.  We are pleased that the Government is actively consulting on aspects of the funding arrangements for Diplomas, and has explicitly recognised that the current systems are unlikely to be sufficiently robust to support successful Diploma delivery. We are also pleased that the proposals to use a common funding model for 16-18 learners whether in schools or in colleges are being taken forward. We look forward to the outcomes of these consultations.

20.  Given the emphasis being placed on 14-19 as a distinct phase, and the centrality of funding in driving provision, we were initially disappointed that the option of creating a single 14-19 funding system appeared not to be being considered further. The creation of a single funding system for 14-19 learners may indeed present significant legal and practical challenges, as the Government asserts, but the potential rewards of a single system could also be very significant indeed. We therefore welcome the Secretary of State's later clarification that a single 14-19 funding system may still be considered in the medium-term, after the next Comprehensive Spending Review period and recommend that they make an explicit commitment to analysing the likely benefits and costs of such an approach.

We welcome the positive response from the Committee to our consultation on changes to pre and post 16 funding systems to support the delivery of Diplomas.

 The fundamental challenge is to ensure that funding systems create the environment for the collaboration needed at area level and between schools and partner providers to deliver the Diploma entitlement to a consistent standard of quality, and making optimum use of the learning resources within an area.

 We will be carefully evaluating the impact of the new funding arrangements for 08-09 to ensure that they are facilitating collaboration as intended. 

 Any longer term changes to 14-19 funding arrangements will be considered in the context of the  transition of funding for 16-18's in School Sixth forms and colleges to LAs announced as part of the Machinery of Government changes. This  will be subject to consultation, ensuring there will be no disruption to schools and colleges and the introduction of Diplomas, and the passage of the necessary legislation. 

21.  We remain unconvinced by the Government's argument that the 'choice' and self determination agenda gels completely with the more co-ordinated and planning-led approach necessitated by Diplomas.

Encouraging quality and encouraging greater diversity of provision is fully compatible with the development of effective local partnerships and planning for the needs of an area. Since institutions cannot individually offer all the opportunities that 14-19 year olds need, there is a strong incentive for institutions to pool their strengths for the good of all young people in the area.

Our "presumption" policies allow high performing institutions to expand, adding to the high quality resources available to partnerships. It is therefore important that discussions about new provision are carried out within the local planning framework. As part of our guidance to institutions qualifying for the sixth form and FE presumptions, we encourage them to enter into early discussions with the local authority, LSC and local partners to ensure that new provision fits with the local pattern of provision.

22.  The DfES says it will be up to local authorities to ensure a joined-up approach, and that they have the strategic responsibility for ensuring coherence. Some have leapt at the challenge, and are effectively supporting joint working in their area. However, our evidence suggests that not all local authorities currently see themselves as having this role. The DfES needs to send a clear message that local authorities have the responsibility to co-ordinate local provision, and crucially, ensure they have the means to do so. We have said above that incentives in the system which promote competition must be revisited: it should not be up to local authorities, or a few particularly enthusiastic institutions, for that matter, to 'square the circle'. The DfES also needs to monitor the effectiveness of LSCs in supporting partnerships, given its recent restructuring.

Local authorities, LSC, Schools, colleges and training providers will all be accountable for their contributions to delivery but Local Authorities play the role of strategic leader. Their role is critical as the integrators of services for children up to the age of 19. We have set out in guidance the role we expect local authorities to take—as strategic leaders within their areas—and reinforced this through local government performance discussions.

Through the 14-19 Progress Checks every LA is undertaking a self assessment which helps them to think through what they need to do to prepare. Areas that have the furthest to go to get ready for the 14-19 reforms are being prioritised for support—particularly with collaboration.

The LSC's organisational restructuring is designed to provide local LSC teams at partnership level who will work closely with Local Authorities and 14-19 partnerships to help their development and success. The LSC will continue to provide support to Consortia as they prepare fro 2008 delivery. Following Machinery of Government changes announced on 29 June and subject to consultation, funding for school sixth forms, sixth form colleges and the contribution of FE colleges to the 14-19 phase will transfer to local authorities' ring fenced education budgets. We will be taking this forward in consultation with the LSC and ensuring no disruption to Consortia.

23.  The multi-site, multi-institutional nature of Diploma delivery inevitably raises significant management challenges around timetabling, transportation, and the monitoring of a mobile student population. These challenges should not be under-estimated—particularly in rural areas where institutions may be located considerable distances apart and travel between multiple institutions may be prohibitively costly, or impractical. However, some areas—and particularly those which have been involved in the Increased Flexibility and 14-19 Pathfinder programmes—now have significant experience of dealing with these challenges in constructive ways. It is vital that their experience is built on, and we see some positive signs that the DfES is doing this—for example, by facilitating 'learning visits' and the publication of best practice materials. We also hope the National Audit Office's report will suggest ways in which best practice from more advanced areas can be more effectively shared.

In general Diplomas will be delivered collaboratively by schools, colleges, and work-based learning providers in consortia. This collective approach inevitably calls for considered and innovative management across any consortium in order to ensure that young people can access Diplomas, taking into account the best approach for the local circumstances. What the best approach might be will, of course, vary from place to place. There are obvious differences between the way in which an urban area with a small geographical spread of institutions and a rural area with highly dispersed institutions and population might approach the transportation of young people—for example through different decisions about timetabling, e-learning, or peripatetic teaching staff.

We know that many local authorities are now developing their plans and strategies for the roll out of Diplomas in 2008 and beyond. Many—including those from the Pathfinder programme—have mature, developed partnerships; others are developing quickly in response to the need to develop better routes for young people. As the Committee acknowledges, the recognition of this distinction has led us to set up the very successful Learning Visits. We also know that other areas are sharing practice informally without going on a formal Learning Visit. The Department will continue to facilitate the sharing of good practice in this area, so that local areas can develop bespoke solutions that respond to the particular circumstances of each consortium.

24.  The Diploma Gateways, in principle at least, look likely to play an essential role in the success of the reform programme if they set consistently high standards which are independently applied, and they should also provide a safeguard against an overly hasty roll-out. We welcome the Minister's emphasis that the Diploma Gateway process needs to be rigorous, and set high quality thresholds. At the time of writing, the results of the application process have only just been announced. It is therefore still too early to speculate on the effectiveness of the Gateways as arbiters of quality, but this is an area over which we intend to keep a watching brief.

An evaluation of the first Diploma Gateway has taken place, and the lessons learned are being fed into the preparations for the next Gateway. The Department is keen to ensure that quality is maintained and has set up support and monitoring arrangements to ensure that consortia continue their preparations to deliver Diplomas to the highest standard from September 2008. Where preparations are falling behind, or the necessary quality is not guaranteed, the Department will agree remedial action with a consortium.

25.  After the announcement of decisions on the first round of applications to the Gateway, the DfES committed to giving detailed feedback to particular areas on the reasons for their success or failure. We understand that this has now taken place. This is welcome, but more publicly available information on the criteria and standards which Diploma Gateways are applying would be welcome, both to help potential applicants, and also to provide reassurance that gateways are setting consistent, and consistently high, benchmarks.

The Department has published the features of successful self-assessments, and this document was also given to consortia as part of their feedback. It gives examples under each of the five criteria (collaboration; facilities; workforce; information, advice and guidance; and employer engagement) from successful applications. It is also available on the Department's website. Evaluation of the first gateway has also highlighted a general wish for more transparency in the assessment process along with more comprehensive guidance. The Department is considering how best to do this for Gateway 2.

It should be said that the feedback from the first Gateway process has been almost universally positive, with a very low number of appeals. The process and communications of outcomes have all worked well, and we have on the whole retained the engagement of those who did not get through the Gateway as well as those who did.

26.  The DfES needs to make clear what plans are underway to develop the capacity of those responsible for guiding young people through the many different options which will be available to them from the age of 14. It also needs to demonstrate that any programme of improvements to information, advice and guidance services planned as part of the wider 14-19 reforms is explicitly tied to the introduction of the Diplomas.

A wide range of activities are in hand and planned to help providers of information, advice and guidance to young people to advise on the implications of the 14-19 reform programme.

Messages about the reform programme are being communicated to information, advice and guidance providers (IAG) through various relevant specialist websites and publications.

These messages are being reinforced by continuing professional development support aimed at developing the skills and competences of the IAG workforce in schools and elsewhere. A web-based CPD resource "Improving Choices for Young People—Developing the IAG Workforce", was published on the DfES-funded CEGNET website in June, with links through to the Department's 14-19 website. We are also working through the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) to recruit 9 regional 'Lead Practitioners' in IAG, who will provide a regional focus for generating and sharing good practice in IAG delivery in schools in the context of the introduction of Diplomas.

These activities will be underpinned by quality standards for young people's IAG which will be published in July following extensive consultation with external stakeholders. These will be used by local authorities and organisations providing IAG services to check that the expected standards are being achieved and to review the quality of services. We will expect 14-19 consortia submitting diploma gateway proposals to include evidence of how they will provide IAG that meets these standards.

27.  The DfES says the essential package of workforce development will initially consist of three days' face-to-face training. This seems to us—and to many of our witnesses— inadequate. It is true that the workforce is not a blank slate, insofar as there are skilled and experienced staff in both schools and colleges with relevant teaching expertise However, we remain to be convinced that the workforce development requirements for the Diplomas have been effectively costed and that sufficient resources have been allocated on this basis. We ask the Government to supply us with information which proves this sort of underpinning analysis has been undertaken or is in progress.

The 3 days training form the basis of the face-to-face element of a wider continuing professional development package. The three days will be spread through the course of the 2007-08 academic year and over this time, Diploma teachers and lecturers will be able to access a large range of supporting materials provided by the QIA and Specialist Schools and Academies Trust according to their development needs.

SSAT are also setting up networks of coaching and support that may be accessed at any time.

We now have information from the first Gateway consortia which gives us actual figures on how many practitioners need to be trained. We and partner agencies are analysing this data in order to ensure appropriate coverage of the training.

We are also using the results from the first Gateway to analyse teacher supply and the demand for continuing professional development and initial teacher training. We are working closely with the TDA and LLUK to ensure an adequate supply of new members of the workforce to reflect the demand for teachers and lecturers to teach Diplomas.

28.  The workforce development needs relating to Diplomas go beyond obvious technical knowledge-base and pedagogy, and are especially acute around collaborative, cross institutional working. We see little immediate sign of this being reflected in current workforce development strategies or plans, and would like to see this rectified.

For the most part, collaborative working across partnerships will be something for leaders in a consortium to continue to lead locally, rather than for the DfES or its partners to provide formal training to those teaching Diplomas, centrally.

The National College for Leadership and the Centre for Excellence in Leadership are developing a programme to support leaders in collaborative cross-institutional working.

This includes:

a)  A collaborative leadership learning module.

b)  Coaching adaptable to a consortium's needs.

c)  Action learning sets.

d)  Organisational development and change management consultancy tailored to the specific needs of an individual consortium.

29 and 30 grouped

29.  It is unfortunate that the delivery of formalised workforce development activities in support of the Diplomas cannot be started in the natural window which will be present at the end of the summer 2007 term. It is now imperative that the plans for workforce development delivery arrangements are clearly communicated, and information about when training will be available is communicated to those who will be expected to undertake it.

30.  Initially, the DfES implied that workforce development support would be focused on successful gateway applicant areas. Subsequently, they have confirmed that support will be extended to those due to begin offering Diplomas in September 2009. This is very welcome. However, it is less certain what support will be extended to those areas with the furthest to travel—and the risk is that they could fall even further behind in relative terms. The DfES and partners need to produce, with some urgency, forward plans for specific, costed, and time-tabled actions to address the staff development needs in the least advanced areas if the entitlement in 2013 is to be deliverable.

Consortia have a year's lead-in to build capacity and train the workforce for Diploma delivery in September 2008. We also do not want to overburden schools and colleges that are taking part in the functional skills pilot. Workforce development for that is taking place in the summer term 2007.

However, some workforce development support is already in place. We have a monthly delivery e-update to Gateway 1 consortia that provides them with important information to support their planning. Information about workforce development opportunities have been included in this email. We have also held regional planning events with consortia in June 2007, at which we dedicated a session to workforce development planning. Our workforce partners were involved in these events.

31.  We agree that in principle the appointment of the Diploma champions is a sensible step, and it is to be hoped they will play a positive role. Clear, consistent and timely communication will be a significant factor determining acceptance and uptake of Diplomas. This said, clever marketing cannot and should not be expected to make good any shortfalls in the quality or integrity of the Diploma programmes themselves. Ultimately, Diplomas will stand or fail on the quality of the awards, and the partnerships that deliver them. Diplomas, to some extent, need to 'sell themselves'. Publicity campaigns—and also the appointment of the Diploma Champions—therefore only make sense in the context of a prior focus on rigorous quality assurance and exacting project management standards, to ensure a high quality product emerges.

We agree wholeheartedly with this recommendation.

And yes, the development of Diplomas requires unprecedented collaboration between those inside the education system and those who are outside it, like employers, but who rely on what it produces. All have worked very hard to get us to the position we are in now, uniquely placed to deliver a qualification that will give young people opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge which are truly relevant and really valued by employers, and which will help them continue in learning to the highest level they can achieve.

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