Select Committee on Education and Skills Fifth Report



4. In January 2003, the DfES published a Green Paper, 14-19: Opportunity and Excellence, which proposed major changes to the curriculum and examinations system in England for 14-19 year olds, and other parallel fundamental changes to the nature of education and training at this stage. These proposals were motivated by a number of factors, including: a desire to improve attainment pre-16 and ensure better staying-on rates post-16; to provide more choice for young people in terms of what programmes they can follow; and to ensure there are better vocational options available to those not well-served by 'academic' options.[1]

5. The Green Paper announced that a Working Group on 14-19 Reform, chaired by Sir Mike Tomlinson, would be formed to examine the options for reform in the longer term.[2] This group produced its final report in October 2004—now widely known as the Tomlinson Report.[3]

6. Tomlinson's main recommendations were:

  • That all students would work toward the attainment of one overarching qualification—the Diploma. This would be attainable at four 'levels', from foundation through to advanced. Existing qualifications, such as A levels, GCSEs and National Vocational Qualifications "should cease to be free-standing qualifications in their own right but should evolve to become components of the new Diplomas."[4]
  • That all students should undertake 'core' learning which was "about getting the basics right, and developing the generic knowledge, skills and attributes necessary for participation in higher education, working life and the community".[5] This would include an extended project, to provide more stretch and challenge for the most able, and to better develop independent skills of inquiry.
  • That students would also undertake 'main' learning. This would be chosen by the learner to reflect their particular interests and aspirations, and could combine both 'vocational' and 'academic' options.
  • That assessment would be undertaken internally up to intermediate level; thereafter, external assessment would continue to take place but would be less intensive than it is currently at, for example, A level.
  • That the overarching Diplomas would be described in reference to up to 20 'lines' of learning—for example, science and maths, or languages, literature and culture. This would reflect the nature of the main subjects studied.

7. In February 2005, the Government published their formal response to the Working Group's recommendations, in the form of a White Paper, 14-19 Education and Skills.[6] Tomlinson's proposals were not accepted in full, despite strong professional support for them. Rather, A levels and GCSEs, the Government proposed, would continue to be available as separate qualifications. Fourteen new themed awards—initially referred to as vocational Diplomas—would be introduced. Each would incorporate academic and vocational content "appropriate to the sector".[7] Each Diploma would be available at three different levels—42 qualifications in all.

8. At the time, many expressed disappointment that the Government appeared to have 'cherry picked' aspects of Tomlinson, rather than taking a more radical approach. A key concern was that the continued existence of A levels and GCSEs alongside the new Diplomas would simply lead to the perpetuation of a damaging 'academic/vocational' split, whereby A levels were seen as the 'gold-standard' and vocational Diplomas as inferior.

9. From the evidence we received, it is clear that the rejection of Tomlinson's key proposal to create an overarching Diploma award, which all students would work toward, is still a matter of deep regret to many. Nevertheless, it also appears that now the decision has been taken, most are very keen for the Diplomas to be a success, and see them as a highly significant development. Ken Boston of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority set the tone at the start of our inquiry when he claimed: "the specialised Diploma […] is the most important reform in which I have ever been involved in 40 years in education".[8]

10. The Association of School and College Leaders wrote:

    "We were strongly supportive of the recommendations in the Tomlinson report and, although we were disappointed that the government did not accept these recommendations in full, we support the introduction of the Diplomas as a major step on the way to the 14 to 19 system that we believe to be necessary for England in the 21st century."[9]

Similarly, John Bangs of the National Union of Teachers told us that he "agree[d] absolutely with Ken Boston [of the QCA], who said several times that certainly he wants to see these things work. That is the most important, top priority."[10] Godfrey Glyn of Barton Peveril Sixth Form College similarly emphasised that the priority now was on ensuring Diplomas were a success:

    "I think it has got to work; it is fundamental to the future of the country, I accept that totally. I think it would be a total disaster if we abandoned this development because I think it has got something which has been missing for an awfully long time. The problem with it […] is that there is a long list of vocational initiatives which have been allowed to wilt and fail in the mainstream education system, and that cannot happen again."[11]

11. Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference on the 10th March 2007, the Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson MP was quoted as saying that there was a danger that the Diplomas could go "horribly wrong", and that on account of the continued existence of A levels and GCSEs, there was "a danger of the Diplomas becoming if you like the secondary modern compared to the grammar".[12] However, he subsequently sought to clarify this, saying that "We are well on track to make sure they [Diplomas] are delivered from 2008 […]. We are now turning them into the radical, exciting qualifications we all hoped for."[13]

12. We asked the Secretary of State whether his reported comments at the ASCL conference had been taken out of context and he told us:

    "It was taken out of context in the sense that the premise of the question was that this is all very difficult. […] [T]he premise of the honest question to me from head teachers by and large who supported Diplomas was: "This is really difficult, is it not?", and my answer was, "Yes, it is." Actually things are going horribly right […] I think to sit in front of people and say blandly, "This is all a walk in the park and there are no difficulties to it at all", of course this is a very precious thing, and because it is a precious and fragile thing we have to make sure we deliver it successfully."[14]

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

What are Diplomas, and what are they for?

16. The Government identified a number of aims for Diplomas, including:

17. In themselves, these aims are clearly entirely laudable. What is more, the first of these is a major concern, given England's low staying-on rates for education and training post-16, in international terms. Nevertheless, many of those from whom we took evidence were keen to point out that such a broad range of desired outcomes placed a heavy burden of expectation on the Diplomas, and was asking them to serve perhaps an unfeasibly large number of ends with the risk that none would be achieved particularly well. The National Association of Head Teachers summed up some of these concerns:

    "Diplomas are intended to be a solution to several different difficulties and run the risk of addressing none of the needs adequately. There is considerable confusion about their purpose and it is unreasonable to expect the same qualification to address, simultaneously, issues of parity of esteem for vocational and academic routes, university discrimination and disaffected young people".[18]

The University and College Union agreed, arguing that "The actual purposes of the specialist Diploma may be problematic as they seem intended to serve multiple and perhaps conflicting purposes."[19]

18. Diplomas are intended to address several large-scale challenges, ranging from improving staying-on rates among those vulnerable to dropping out, to increasing 'stretch and challenge' for the most able. We do not necessarily view these as intrinsically conflicting purposes. However, for the qualifications and programmes to achieve such a wide range of aims successfully, there needs to be adequate time for development and reflection: as we contend later on in this report, it is far from certain that this has been sufficiently appreciated to date.

19. Each of the 14 Diplomas will be offered at three different levels. The QCA gives the following comparisons of how these will compare with other qualifications "in terms of average length of study":

    Level one Diploma—comparable to a programme of four or five GCSEs

    Level two Diploma—comparable to a programme of five to six GCSEs

    Level three Diploma—comparable to a programme of three A levels (an award requiring the equivalent amount of study to two A levels is also being developed).[20]

20. A common structure will be shared by all 14 Diploma lines, although they will operate slightly differently at each of the three levels at which they will be offered. Learning will be divided between the following areas:

  • Principal learning. This is the mandatory 'core' of Diplomas and will be specific to each Diploma line. It is suggested that students would typically spend approximately 40-50% of their time on this.
  • Generic learning. This will be common to all 14 lines of learning, and includes: Functional skills in literacy, numeracy and IT (at levels 1 and 2); Personal learning and thinking skills; the completion of an extended project, to develop independent study skills. It is suggested that approximately 15-40% of time may be spent on this.
  • Additional/ Specialist learning (ASL): this can involve either further development of specialist skills relevant to the main direction of the Diploma, and/or a wider combination of options which range across industries and/or 'academic' options, which could include one or more A levels or GCSEs. It is suggested that ASL might comprise approximately 20-30% of learner's time.[21]
  • A minimum of 10 days' work experience with an employer in the relevant sector.

21. The DfES offers the following illustration of how the Engineering Diploma might work for one particular student, studying at level 2:

    "Carly had always been interested in cars and had enjoyed Design and Technology throughout secondary school. Following advice from her teachers and school careers adviser she chose to do the level 2 Diploma in Engineering. Carly's principal learning programme introduced her to different options and skills across engineering, including engineering design, engineering applications of computers, electronic and electrical systems, manufacturing engineering, maintenance, and innovation in engineering. Her school had good links with local businesses and was able to organise work experience for her with the local Jaguar dealership. This enabled her to find out about the technical side of working with cars and about vehicle sales. Carly was concerned about green issues, and through her project she was able to investigate hybrid cars and developments in alternative fuels. During her course Carly was able to find out more about career options in the motor industry, and when she completed her Diploma, she was well placed to take up an Apprenticeship in vehicle sales or vehicle technology, or to go on to further study in engineering."[22]

22. The Diploma will be a composite award, which will be attained on the successful completion of component units or modules, which can be 'mixed and matched'. The intention is that individual providers will be able to customise Diplomas to suit their own, and students', needs. The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) and City and Guilds have recently formed a partnership to develop the qualifications and assessment arrangements for the Diploma components. This, they argue, will provide "the most comprehensive curriculum offer across all 14 lines of learning. Centres will be able to access a wide choice of coherent progression pathways with the administrative simplicity of one point of contact."[23]


23. On the issue of the longer-term ambitions for Diplomas, the Association for College Management told us:

24. A review of A levels is due to take place in 2008, which will look at the opportunities for increasing the challenge and breadth they offer. The Government states, however, that "the review will not be looking at the future of A levels. They will remain long-term as free-standing qualifications".[25] That statement seems to indicate categorically that the Diplomas are intended to be a permanent 'third track' option. However, in theory at least, students are free to pursue A levels or additional GCSEs as part of the additional or specialist learning elements of their Diploma; and, at key stage 4, it is claimed that students would normally meet the functional skills requirements in the generic learning component by following GCSEs in Maths and English.[26]

25. We asked the Secretary of State what the reasons were for pushing ahead with the review of A levels given that the Diplomas would only just have begun in 2008, and he told us:

    "On the A level review, we were committed to that in the White Paper. It is a review of A level. It is not a review of Diplomas and A levels, a return to whether we should go back to pure Tomlinson; it is a review of A levels. So the fact that Diplomas are just getting off the ground in 2008 is exactly why it is not going to be an overall review of the whole thing together. It is looking at A levels specifically."[27]

26. 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 is known about how Diplomas are working in practice.


27. Vocational learning is commonly understood to mean learning which is work-related, in the sense that it provides preparation for either a particular career or even a particular task within a job, for possible entry into a particular occupational area, or for further study in that area. Examples range from apprenticeships in traditional trades such as plumbing or construction, to courses such as National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) which are available in a wide variety of occupational areas—for example, childcare or hospitality and catering, to courses such as BTEC National Diplomas. Common to all vocationally-based courses is a method of practical 'learning by doing'.

28. 'Academic' learning, on the other hand, is usually understood to involve a less practical and more desk-based style of learning, to serve a more general educative purpose, and to be only indirectly related to career preparation (for example, in the sense of developing the skills of critical inquiry needed for a range of occupations, or a foundation of knowledge to serve as the platform for further, more career-specific training). Qualifications commonly thought of as 'academic' include traditional A levels' or GCSEs.

29. In practice, however, learning does not always fall neatly into these categories. Some so-called academic learning programmes are by design highly skills-based or make use of some applied or practical learning methods (for example, the use of 'practicals' in the case of science A levels). Other courses commonly thought of as highly academic—such as law or medicine at degree level—are in reality highly vocational in the sense that they prepare learners for a very particular occupation and develop skills through practical experience.

30. A key issue from the outset concerning Diplomas—and one which is at the heart of many of the debates surrounding them—has been that of definition and purpose. In particular, it has not always been clear to what extent the new programmes are intended to be vocational, or applied, or to serve a more general educational purpose. The Government's own standpoint on this issue appears to have changed over time. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Andrew Adonis, referred to the new awards in May 2006 as "specialised vocational Diplomas".[28] The DfES, on the other hand, has referred to them as "specialised Diplomas"[29] until the publication in March 2007 of the Green Paper Raising Expectations, when the 'specialised' part of the name appears to have been completely dropped and where all references are to "Diplomas" only.[30]

31. The DfES, in its evidence to this inquiry described the Diplomas as a "highly valued mixed theoretical and practical route for young people which genuinely meets the needs of employers and provides a sound basis for progression into higher education (HE)."[31] When we took evidence from the Minister on the issue of definition and purpose, he told us he saw the Diplomas as charting "a middle course between traditional academic and traditional vocational qualifications". [32]

32. We explored with other witnesses what they perceived the nature of the Diplomas to be. Ken Boston of the QCA told us that he saw the aim as being:

    "the same as that of any other high quality educational programme and that is to exercise and grow the learning muscle which is in the head of every young person. For some that growth is stimulated by the study of an academic discipline. For others across the entire ability range it is better stimulated by a vocational-based curriculum. For many, the best learning experience involves both. This is education, not training for job readiness."[33]

However, the awarding body OCR imply that a confusion over purposes has led to a lack of consistency across the first five Diploma lines:

    "Much emphasis is given to work-based and 'applied' learning, yet elsewhere we learn that Diplomas must provide a 'broad general education'. Diploma development will be 'employer-led' yet the White Paper strenuously avoids linking the term 'vocational' to the Diplomas and stresses their importance as a route to Higher Education. The first five Diploma Development Partnerships have not demonstrated a common understanding of the nature of the Diplomas to which they are seeking to contribute, with some seeing them as heavily occupation-specific and others as a general preparation for working life or higher education."[34]

33. Several of those from whom we received evidence warned of the potential for 'academic drift'—i.e., that the practical and applied nature of the curriculum could be downgraded and replaced with more 'classroom-based' and theoretical activity, either through unfamiliarity with vocational teaching and learning methods, and/or as a consequence of a residual belief that 'academic' learning was the 'gold standard'. Ann Hodgson and Ken Spours, of the Institute of Education, for example, told us that the Diplomas were very likely to occupy a 'middle track' between true 'vocational' qualifications, and more 'academic' ones such as A levels. They suggest:

    "This is fuelling an ongoing debate as to the nature of the new awards, centring around the degree to which they will become more general, more applied or more sharply vocational. The latest draft of content of the first five Diplomas published in July 2006, possibly with the exception of Construction, looks as if the balance is tilting towards academic/applied rather than vocational/practical, casting doubt over whether these awards will eventually be labelled as vocational qualifications."[35]

34. Godfrey Glyn of Barton Peveril Sixth Form College observed:

    "There is a long tradition within education of vocational qualifications being introduced […] which have been diluted, become more academic almost, rather than vocational, in order to achieve some kind of respectability. For me, certainly in the context which I come from, schools are looking at this development with some anxiety, because they hope that it will be recognised by higher education as only then will it have credibility in their own little community."[36]

35. Similarly, the Association for College Management told us:

    "if S[pecialised] D[iploma]s are not regarded as fully 'vocational' this raises the question of why employers are taking the lead in their development. In our view it is important that the new qualifications meet distinctly different learning needs than those met by A levels. We should not fall into the old trap of imagining that the only way to secure parity of esteem is to make the vocational side qualifications resemble academic side qualifications. Indeed we suggest that the parity of esteem debate is unhelpful: let us concentrate on developing first rate qualifications that offer all of our young learners an excellent, modern and accessible education."[37]

The 157 Group of Colleges made a similar point, suggesting: "It is fair to say that these Diplomas will have to be skilfully designed and positioned if they are not just to become a means of bolstering the academic route with the lightest of vocational seasoning."[38]

36. When the Secretary of State gave evidence to us, he told us: "this is not a vocational Diploma, it is not another form of job training, this is something really exciting".[39] However, he later continued:

    "[T]he whole point of these Diplomas is that they are vocational education. They do not lead to a vocational qualification. They are vocational education in the sense that they are designed by industry, they have an academic content to them as well, for people who want to go into engineering and go into level 4 they are a perfect route, but, similarly, they should never trap someone into a particular route, which is why you have to have all the options as well. So there is a large vocational element to this."[40]

37. 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.

38. We asked the DfES to state how they intended to explain Diplomas succinctly to interested parties, given the complex nature of what Diplomas were trying to achieve. Jon Coles, Director of 14-19 Reform, replied:

    "Could I do this by way of an example? I think nowadays it is easy to go to schools and see young people in Key Stage 4, who are doing things which are clearly vocational training and they are spending perhaps half of their timetable doing something which is quite narrowly focused on, say, motor vehicles as a subject area. I would say two things about that. The first is that for 14 to 16 year olds to spend half or two-thirds of their timetable on that is too narrow. Secondly, what we see from young people who are doing that is that they are often much more motivated and much more focused on learning, and that is to do with the style of learning and the style of teaching; it is to do with place and where they are learning and the reality of what they are experiencing; and it is to do with subject matter as well—they are looking at something and doing something that they are interested in, engaged by and motivated by. So the point of the Diploma is to capture that motivation, that engagement which comes from style of teaching and learning, subject matter, place, environment, real subject experience, but to produce something which is broader, which develops people's cognitive skills and is not just training for a specific occupation. So that is the key purpose."[41]

We appreciate the sentiments behind this statement—which, it could be argued, is indeed an accurate description of Diplomas. However, it is also a highly technical, complex and lengthy explanation, and very far from being 'media-friendly'.

39. The Minister sought to reassure us that the Government was aware of the importance of clear communications and was actively addressing this issue:

    "the Chief Executives' Group […] identified from all of those chief executives the need to get this communication script right and alongside sharing each other's risk management. At our meeting in February—so some time in the next few weeks—we will be pinning those down and agreeing amongst all of us what the communication lines are and to share our risk profiles as well has having a discussion on the Gateway. That is the agenda for the next meeting."[42]

40. The DfES describes Diplomas as charting a 'middle course' between traditional academic and vocational qualifications, combining the benefits of both. We see a risk that in the absence of clear communications about what this means, Diplomas could all too easily be seen as falling between two stools, rather than having a distinct identity of their own. 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.


Overall achievability

41. The Government's plan is to develop and introduce Diplomas in three phases. Five initial Diploma Development Partnerships (led by Sector Skills Councils, with input from a range of other partners) were established in the last quarter of 2005. Nine additional partnerships have subsequently been formed to cover the remaining Diploma areas. The timetable for implementation is as follows:

42. The QCA told us:

43. Given the QCA's comments, we were keen to establish what had been achieved to date, and whether the programme was on track to deliver according to the timetable which had been set. The DfES told us that:

    "Progress to date has been good. The main milestones in the timeline published in the 14-19 Education and Skills Implementation Plan (DfES 2037-2005 DCL-EN) last year have been met or are on course to be achieved".[44]

44. In much of the evidence we received, there was a clear call to recognise the achievements which had been made. Nevertheless, in many of the submissions was an often explicit recognition that progress made had been very much against the clock. Most contributors, even those who sought to highlight what had been achieved, raised concerns about the feasibility and desirability of the timetables and deadlines which were currently being pursued. The Edge Foundation was categorical, saying "The current time-scales are unrealistic—some would say dishonest—and unless relaxed the Specialised Diplomas will fail as have very many similar initiatives over previous decades."[45] Similarly, the Institution of Engineering and Technology argued that the Diploma development process had been rushed:

    "Insufficient time has been set aside either for the creation of new course content, or to take and consider input and experiences from the wider group of stakeholders. Hence while we are actively supporting the development process we are withholding final endorsement until we see a completed Diploma structure."[46]

45. The National Association of Head Teachers told us "The timescale for the introduction of Diplomas has been inappropriately and unrealistically short, considering the magnitude of the new initiative"[47] while the Universities and Colleges Union argued:

    "[T]he time line for the introduction of the first five of the fourteen lines of the specialist Diploma, with a subsequent roll-out of the remaining lines to 2013, is too tight. We believe it will not allow proper and realistic piloting and evaluation, publication and dissemination of syllabus content and supporting materials or workforce development to support teaching the Diplomas."[48]

46. The QCA has to date taken the main strategic and co-ordinating role in Diploma development. Ken Boston told us he thought the programme overall was achievable in the timeframe currently set:

    "I believe we can deliver this process on the current timescale with this structure. If it is not working, then it would need to be changed again and be flexible. [...] We are now confident we have a solution that will work provided we have, as undoubtedly we have, the commitment of all the parties, including the DfES, to manage this in a disciplined and strategic way, not defining who is doing what but monitoring who has done what, whether time lines have been met, whether targets have been met and whether accountabilities have been met, and calling bodies to account, if they have not."[49]

47. Some of those from whom we took evidence suggested that the introduction of the first five Diploma lines in September 2008 should be delayed. The University and College Union recommended that "the start date for the first five Diplomas should be postponed a year and that they should be introduced in September 2009, and the remaining Diplomas rolled out until 2014."[50] Karen Price of e-skills UK said she was not definitely in favour of a delay, but that she did think "now is the time for a risk assessment on the timescales. I think we should have the courage to delay a year if that is required".[51]

48. However, Ken Boston of the QCA did not agree with delaying the start of the programme beyond September 2008, arguing that such a move risked curtailing the enthusiasm of those who were already keen to start delivering the Diplomas:

    "It is very important that we start this off in 2008. There is such an interest and pressure from schools and colleges. [...] [T]he qualification is there. There is no doubt the qualification will be available in detail from September 2007 with first teaching to begin in 2008. [...] It is not an issue about letting it out another year; I think there would be great disappointment and serious damage if we did that. We have to move ahead with it and do that but let us be measured and guarded with the roll out."[52]

John Rogers of Skills for Health seemed to agree at least in part with this, saying "there are risks in delaying and risks in going forward."[53]


49. One area where we have found almost unanimous agreement was the importance of a very small and controlled implementation of the first five Diploma lines in 2008, followed by a cautious expansion in subsequent years. Several witnesses pointed out that, historically, the introduction and rollout of new qualifications had tended to be rushed, with detrimental effects. The University and College Union told us:

50. John Rogers of Skills for Health also saw a danger in making Diplomas too widely available in the initial stages:

    "I suspect that the danger in this is if we do try a bulk roll-out […]. It is far better to get a quality product right and grow it rather […] than to try to get mass roll-out in that way".[55]

51. The Sector Skills Council, Skillset, agreed saying:

    "we need a small and structured pilot for 2008. The pilot needs to be controlled and managed and signalled as part of the development process so that we use the opportunity to continue to refine and develop the qualifications, approaches to learning and assessment and all of the support and delivery programmes that will be needed to make this work."[56]

52. In the 14-19 implementation plan, the DfES stated "In 2008, our modelling suggests that we need to prepare for up to 50,000 young people taking specialised Diplomas".[57] We explored with witnesses whether this was a reasonable expectation. John Bangs of the National Union of Teachers told us:

    "I do not want to say 'It hasn't got a cat in hell's chance,' I do not want to be that pessimistic, but I do think that it would not be good for those taking the Diplomas if there was a forced roll-out to get to that target. […] I may be wrong but I do not think it is going to happen, and would not advise it anyway."[58]

53. We asked the Minister whether he perceived any tension between getting the quality right, and securing enough enrolments in September 2008. He told us that of the two priorities, "The most important thing is quality; we place an absolute premium on that."[59] He also told us categorically that 50,000 was not a target for September 2008:

    "we do not have a target […]. If we had a target then people would believe that we were sacrificing quality in order to hit a target. The 50,000 was an indication of the sort of numbers because people always ask us how many people might be involved, so we give a ballpark figure, understanding, obviously, that as soon as you use a figure everyone thinks it is then a target; but it is not a target."[60]

54. It now seems highly unlikely that the first teaching of the Diplomas could be delayed. As one of our witnesses put it, there are risks in delaying and risks in going forward. From the evidence we have received, we believe that much could be lost unless there is partial introduction of the Diplomas in September 2008—in particular, the enthusiasm and commitment of the teachers and lecturers who are expecting to deliver them from 2008.

55. 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.

1   Department for Education and Skills, 14-19: Opportunity and Excellence, 0744/2002, January 2003. Back

2   The Working Group had 15 Members aside from the chair, representing state and private education sectors, further and higher education, industry, local authorities and the voluntary and community sector. Back

3   Working Group on 14-19 Reform, 14-19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform: Final Report of the Working Group on 14-19 Reform, October 2004, p 5. Back

4   Ibid, p 24 Back

5   Ibid, p 5 Back

6   Department for Education and Skills, 14-19 Education and Skills, Cm 6476, 23 February 2005.  Back

7   "Kelly Sets Out 14-19 Reform", Department for Education and Skills press release 2005/0026, 23 Feb 2005. Back

8   Q 1 Back

9   Ev 136 Back

10   Q 104 Back

11   Q 108 Back

12   "Diplomas may go horribly wrong", BBC News Online, 10 March 2007, Back

13   The Guardian, March 20 2007, p 4. Back

14   Q 295 Back

15   Department for Education and Skills, Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post-16, March 2007, CM 7065. Back

16   Ev 53 Back

17   Ev 53 Back

18   Ev 83 Back

19   Ev 148 Back

20   Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, The Diploma, March 2007, 07/3084. Back

21   Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, The Specialised Diploma, January 2007, QCA/06/2986. Back

22   Department for Education and Skills (March 2007), Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post-16, p 25. Back

23   Ev 104 Back

24   Ev 94 Back

25   from Back

26   Department for Education and Skills, Your Questions Answered-further information following the Regional Conferences, available to download from Back

27   Q 290 Back

28   HL Deb, 22 May 2006, Col 581 Back

29   See for example Department for Education and Skills memorandum to the Committee, Ev 53 ff. Back

30   Ibid. Back

31   Ev 53 Back

32   Q 201 Back

33   Q 1 Back

34   Ev 107 Back

35   Ev 121 Back

36   Q 94 Back

37   Ev 94 Back

38   Ev 202 Back

39   Q 295 Back

40   Q 307 Back

41   Q 242 Back

42   Q 244 Back

43   Q 2 Back

44   Ev 54 Back

45   Ev 178 Back

46   Ev 105 Back

47   Ev 83 Back

48   Ev 148 Back

49   Q 8 Back

50   Ev 148 Back

51   Q 19 Back

52   Q 18 Back

53   Q 21 Back

54   Ev 148 Back

55   Q 14 Back

56   Ev 132-133 Back

57   Department for Education and Skills, 14-19 Education and Skills: Implementation Plan, 2037-2005DCL-EN, 2005, p 54. Back

58   Q 110 Back

59   Q 202 Back

60   Q 207-208 Back

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