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Sharp turn on vocational route

Warwick Mansell's article ("Diploma fears as pupils shun vocational exams", TES, August 25) suggests pupils are not interested in vocational qualifications. ConstructionSkills, the sector skills council for construction, has found the opposite to be true.

A new GCSE in construction and the built environment is now being piloted in schools and colleges in England and Wales. From September 2005, the pilot originally involved 55 centres and some 975 students. Due to high demand, this has increased to 58 centres involving 1,250 students, and permission has recently been granted to expand the pilot to 100 centres.

The GCSE will be evaluated over two years, and rolled out in 2008 if it is successful.

We are also involved in the introduction of a Young Apprenticeship programme to be launched in September 2006, in which young people will begin a Young Apprenticeship at the age of 14. They will spend two days a week of their curriculum time working towards a level 2 in vocationally-related qualification in construction and take the ConstructionSkills health and safety test. The apprenticeship will also demand 50 days' work experience.

Across the country, the Young Apprenticeship programme in construction is already over-subscribed. Pathways linking the programme to post-16 apprenticeships, vocational qualifications and full employment are very positive. Also in development is a specialised diploma to be introduced in 2008.

It will combine the essential work-based experiences needed to prepare young people for the world of work or further and higher education. The diplomas are being developed with industry, government and education providers. Diplomas will be taught through local partnerships between schools, colleges and training providers. Partners have been asked to form consortia within their local areas and to submit an expression of interest in offering diplomas. So far the expressions of interest in the diploma equate to the provision of 37,000 pupil places.

Construction is often hands-on work so it makes sense to have qualifications that help to ensure that young people who are interested in that sector can get the type of real experience not available through the traditional routes - employers and young people are in full agreement on that.

Mike Bialyj. Field director CITB-ConstructionSkills 12 Carthusian Street, London EC1

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