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First 145 get go-ahead for diplomas

NEARLY 40,000 teens could be taking the Government's new diploma qualification within 18 months after ministers this week approved more than 100 local plans to trial them from September 2008.

A total of 145 partnerships between schools, colleges and work-based training providers have been given the go-ahead to offer the GCSE and A-level alternatives to 14 to 19-year-olds in one of five subjects - IT, engineering, creative and media, health and social care, and construction.

However, for half of these partnerships, the approval depends on them meeting certain conditions within the next three months. Those that succeed will receive pound;30,000 to run each diploma, which could amount to as little as pound;30 per student in some areas.

A further 197 local consortia have been accepted to offer diplomas from 2009, subject to meeting government conditions. And, by 2013, every pupil in England has to be offered the choice of 14 diploma courses. The announcement has provoked celebrations in successful partnerships. Rosemary Morris, head of school improvement for Middlesbrough council, said: "We see this as a big boost to the regeneration of our town."

But it appears to underline the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's determination to keep the number of schools and colleges running the diplomas relatively small at first. Almost half the partnerships that applied to trial the diplomas have not been successful and will have to re-apply to stand a chance of running them from 2009.

The successful bids were welcomed by ministers, the Confede-ration of British Industry and teachers' unions, although the unions said there could be problems with the way the diplomas were funded and organised locally.

Steve Sinnott, National Union of Teachers general secretary, said: "The last thing anyone wants is a repeat of the Curriculum 2000 crisis, when new examinations were introduced without proper planning and resources."

The largest successful partnership is in Cornwall, where 1,205 students are expected to start the creative and media diploma next year, subject to final Government approval by June.

* See 14 to 19 supplement inside 'TESmagazine'

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