Although an increasing number are gaining higher qualifications, there is still room for improvement.
Diplomas are integral to our vision for education of the future and we have the teacher training materials and programmes in place for when teaching starts in selected areas in September 2008.
This is one of the most exciting and important new educational programmes to be implemented for generations.
Diplomas that combine theoretical and practical learning will not provide job-specific training or make a person "job ready". That route will continue to be provided by apprenticeships, which will sit alongside diplomas.
Raising attainment levels is essential if we are to meet the skills needs of the economy well into the future. We need to engage all young people in learning, provide them with a strong foundation for employment and encourage them to aspire to higher levels, whatever their starting point.
Diplomas will allow this.
Other countries have much higher post-16 participation in education and training, and prove that an applied curriculum derived from industry provides as much of a challenge as a traditional curriculum.
Over 5,000 employers have been involved in the development of diplomas to date and we will continue to build business support. Many higher education institutions have been involved, too.
I want to ensure that there is a range of equally rigorous learning routes for those who can progress to higher education. A-levels offer the traditional route and the diplomas will offer an alternative option.
The diplomas will develop the knowledge and aptitudes necessary for success on a range of university courses. Level 3 diplomas will include an extended project to allow individuals to plan and organise their own learning and demonstrate project management, synthesis and other skills that higher education institutions need. They will also stretch the most able.
The first five diplomas - in information technology; society, health and development; engineering; creative and media; and construction and the built environment - will be available from September 2008. The next five - in land-based and environment; manufacturing; hair and beauty; business administration and finance; and hospitality and catering - will be available from September 2009. The final four - in public service; sport and leisure; retail; and travel and tourism - will be available from September 2010.
Diplomas are going to transform the learning landscape and finally break down the snobbery between theoretical and practical studies that has let this country down for generations.
Secretary of State for Education and Skills