New diplomas under pressure

Developers of the new specialised diplomas face a race against time to get the work-related courses ready for dispatch to schools and colleges by September, The TES can reveal.

The diplomas have been described as the world's most important education reforms. An email from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority last week lists 61 issues yet to be resolved. These include:

* How many Ucas points the diplomas will be awarded? Ucas, the universities admissions co-ordinator, said the qualification could not be given entry points until detail of the courses is settled.

* Which school and college will be responsible for a student when he or she studies a diploma in more than one institution?

* What will the resit rules for the diplomas be?

* Will schools and colleges have to ensure they offer every element of a particular diploma?

* How are the diplomas to be marketed?

Detailed rules about how exam boards collaborate to offer the diplomas, each of which consist of smaller courses and which can embrace existing GCSEs and A-levels, have also yet to be resolved.

The email will fuel claims that the qualification is being rushed. In January, employers' representatives said ministers should consider putting back the diplomas by a year.

The first five diplomas, in engineering, construction, health and social care, creative and media and information technology, are due to be offered in selected schools and colleges from 2008. This means full descriptions of how they will operate need to be with teachers by September, allowing them to plan ahead. Students will start making choices on whether to opt for the diplomas this autumn.

Many will find it surprising that fundamental issues, such as who takes responsibility for students as they travel between school and college to take the courses, have yet to be decided.

Ucas's inability to assign points to the new courses until after they are launched in schools could also leave students wondering whether it will be worth taking a diploma.

A source close to the development process said: "This process is slightly more chaotic than you would expect from a qualification as big as this at this stage."

"I do not think people are panicking yet. We know what needs to be done. We need people to be making decisions. If they are not sorted by the end of the Easter holidays, people will quite legitimately start going into panic mode."

A QCA spokesman said: "Many of the questions raised have been answered and others will be resolved over the next few months.

"It is important to listen to issues that are brought to our attention and work together to ensure that the diploma offers the best possible learning programme from 2008."

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