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Grand design for the new skills revolution

Fourteen specialist diplomas will be awarded from 2013, offering a new route to higher education and employment for all student abilities.

Students will be able to progress at their own pace, with remedial steps for those with learning difficulties and more challenging work to "stretch"

the most able. All diplomas include a strong core of basic skills, with functional maths and English. They can be taken alone or in combination with other studies - such as GCSEs or A-levels - to suit the individual's career options.

The first five diplomas, available from September 2008, are:

Construction and the Built Environment

Creative and Media


Information and Communication Technology

Society, Health and Development

A further five, available from September 2009, are:

Business Administration and Finance

Land-based and Environment

Hair and Beauty

Hospitality and Catering


The final four, available from September 2010, are:

Public Service


Sport and Leisure

Travel and Tourism

Construction and the Built Environment

From construction manager to civil engineer, this diploma offers routes to every related trade and profession.

The diploma gives a vision of the world through the eyes of builders, architects and environmentalists. They will learn how such people shape and develop the wider world, as well as the impact this has on their own lives.

A firm grounding at level 1 introduces students to the nature of the built environment, factors that influence design and construction, and the influence it has on people and communities.

At level 2, they will have the chance to develop their skills and knowledge and to apply them to the design, creation and maintenance of buildings. The course gives insight into occupations ranging from service engineer to ergonomist.

By level 3, those looking for an apprenticeship or to start a degree will have opportunities to explore the principles behind the social, economic and cultural contributions of the built environment.

In addition, this diploma has specialist options such as construction, building-services engineering, management of built assets, management in the built environment, as well as a range of elective studies.

Creative and Media

Britain's hottest music property, Arctic Monkeys, say they owe their soar-away success as much to technology and business acumen as they do to their musical creativity.

They studied music technology at Barnsley College three years ago and this gave them the internet skills to promote their album, the fastest-selling of all time. The acquisition of such skills is now a central part of the creative and media diploma.

Whether students aspire to be a fashion designer, creative writer, advertising director or musician, the diploma takes a disciplined approach to four themes: creativity in context, thinking and working creatively, the principles, processes and practices behind the work, and commercial skills.

The diploma at level 1 offers a choice of 15 disciplines in three groupings: art and design, the performing arts and the media. Pupils take four modules: an introductory "taster" and three combined modules.

At level 2, they can choose a minimum of six sector-related disciplines and must produce five portfolios of work as part of the assessment. By level 3, in preparation for work or higher education, students specialise around four related disciplines, which they can combine or take separately.


The vast range of careers available through the engineering diploma is indicated by the diversity of employers involved in designing the package.

They include Rolls-Royce, Shell UK, Northumbrian Water and Vodafone.

The themes that underpin the studies are maths and science, technology, problem solving, communication, creative and innovative thinking, and health and safety.

The diploma begins with an introduction to what shapes the made world. At level 2, doors are opened on specific areas, such as engineering design, application of computers, electronic and electrical systems, manufacturing, maintenance and innovative engineering. Three themes shape the students'

work: the engineering world; discovering engineering technology; and engineering the future.

By level 3, in preparation for an apprenticeship or degree, students are introduced to analytical methods for engineering. Engineering projects also encourage higher-level thinking skills and teamwork as students take part in research and development, design and construction, and in commissioning, testing and evaluating ideas.

Information Technology

Information technology is growing between five and eight times faster than any other industry in the UK. There are 1.2 million people in the IT workforce, with a turnover of 150,000 a year.

The information technology diploma addresses not only this astonishing growth in demand, but also the pace of change. Its central aim is to equip students with the skills to thrive in the e-economy. The diploma concentrates, therefore, not only on the future IT workforce and business leaders, but also on the needs of individuals.

The focus is on the competencies relevant to IT professional work, rather than user skills, and on technology for business. By integrating business, interpersonal and technical themes, work focuses on what a person can do, rather than on what he or she knows.

The urgent need for a wider, more relevant diploma to meet the changing needs of the global IT industry and a rapidly expanding knowledge economy is reflected in the decline of traditional computer studies. The number of A-level applicants fell from 28,000 in 2003 to 6,200 last year.

Society, Health and Development

Three words are at the heart of this diploma: health, care and justice. It leads to the widest possible range of careers in the industry, from children's nurse to hospital administrator.

The partnership from industry, higher education, schools, colleges and government sum up the thinking behind the diploma as follows: it provides a unique opportunity to bring together within one qualification the workforces for social care, children and young people's services, community justice and health.

At level 1, students learn about the background to the various sectors and the underlying principles and values of the services. They consider the importance of working safely, protecting vulnerable people and look at the issues behind health, well-being and the lifestyles of individuals.

While these and other key generic issues such as communication and working partnership are further developed at level 2, pupils also begin to address deeper, more controversial issues. These include antisocial and offending behaviour, problems around disability, patient-centred health and support available for children in need.

All these issues are explored more analytically at level 3, when students have the chance to pick specialist studies from a wide range of options.

These range from infection prevention and the impact of offending behaviour on individuals and communities, to ethical dilemmas, judgments and decision-making in social care practice.

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