Many teenagers have no idea what the Government's new Diploma qualification actually entails, according to new research.
But most have, nonetheless, decided that it is less appealing than A- levels, claiming that they would rather have an "academic qualification" that enables them to go to university.
Academics at Reading University questioned 412 Year 11 pupils about their attitudes towards the various qualifications available in the sixth form. Their findings are being presented this week at the annual British Educational Research Association conference.
The first five Diplomas, which combine academic and practical learning, were introduced in September 2008. From this month, 10 subjects will be available, expanding to 17 by 2011. The Government has predicted that 40,000 pupils will begin studying for the new qualification this month.
However, more than a third of the teenagers surveyed had little or no knowledge of the Diploma at the start of Year 11. By the end of the academic year, a quarter still knew nothing about it, with just one in 10 believing it was a degree-level course.
By contrast, 94 per cent of pupils knew something about A-levels.
The Reading researchers found that pupils' knowledge of the Diploma was not only limited, but often incorrect. Many thought it involved only studying one subject, and a fifth described it as a job-specific qualification. One pupil said: "A-levels are more flexible. Diplomas only qualify you for a few jobs."
Many also believed that the Diploma was a less-academic alternative to A- levels. As a result, fewer than a quarter of the pupils surveyed said they would consider it. One pupil summed this up: "Basically, if you can't do A-levels, you just do, like, a Diploma." Another added: "I just wanna go straight. I don't wanna do Diploma."
Nonetheless, the teenagers did see value in a vocational education, with 81 per cent saying they thought such a route was important. But the majority felt that it was important for other people, rather than for themselves. One pupil said that vocational qualifications were only for "those not suited to school".
"It's good to have practical skills," another said, "but if I want them, I can do voluntary work."
The academics have concluded that there is a "qualification hierarchy", in which academic qualifications dominate. They state that while A-levels remain, they will be the qualification of choice.
"The Diploma must be seen by young people to offer them realistic opportunities to progress to work and to higher education if it is to become a successful option," the academics said.
"At present, Year 11 pupils . are seeing the Diploma as neither of equal value to A-levels, nor as a particularly viable pathway to higher education or employment."
On the level
- 37 per cent of Year 11 pupils knew nothing about the Diploma at the start of the academic year. A quarter still knew nothing about the qualification at the end of the year.
- 94 per cent of Year 11 pupils knew something about A-levels by the end of the year, while 62 per cent knew about Diplomas.
- 23 per cent of pupils said they would consider taking a Diploma. Of those, 19 per cent said the qualification was not suitable for academic pupils.
- Only 34 per cent of pupils thought that vocational qualifications were as good as academic ones.
- 58 per cent of pupils did not think their schools had given them enough information about the Diploma.