Diplomas will bring the worlds of work and education closer together, and let young people see the relevance of what they are learning, says Steven Hastings. Are diplomas neither one thing nor the other, or the best of both worlds?
They lie somewhere between a vocational and academic qualification and, as such, might be overlooked by the people they could serve well.
They won't prepare pupils for a specific trade. But they will make learning relevant to the workplace and teach many of the personal skills needed for employment.
Diplomas launch next September, offering an alternative to GCSEs and A-levels, and to existing vocational qualifications such as BTECs.
At first, they'll only be available in selected parts of the country, but by 2013, every pupil in England should be able to pick from the full range of 17 subjects.
Diplomas won't be delivered by individual schools, but by partnerships, made up of several secondary schools, and one or more FE colleges.
Different partners within the group might offer different diplomas. Or they might share the delivery of a single diploma between them. Either way, it's likely to mean pupils spending part of the week outside their own school.
For teachers, too, diplomas will mean a new way of working. Instead of operating within a single department, they'll become part of a bigger picture. Subject boundaries will be redrawn. A design and technology teacher, for example, could be involved in three different diploma courses - such as engineering, manufacturing or creative and media.
English, maths and technology teachers, meanwhile, will be called upon to teach the "functional skills" that are part of every diploma.
All teachers involved in the diplomas will need strong links with local businesses. Getting employers involved is likely to be the key to young people seeing a clear link between what they're learning and how it might be useful to them later in life.
How it will work
Diplomas will be available at three levels. Levels 1 and 2 will occupy a typical GCSE pupil for three days a week, while Level 3 will be equivalent to two to three A-levels.
The content of each diploma breaks down into three parts:
Generic Learning is common to every diploma. All pupils must learn work-related maths, English, and technology skills, as well as personal skills such as teamwork and problem-solving. Ten days' work experience will be compulsory.
Principal Learning is the main body of learning related to the chosen diploma, a mixture of theory and practical skills.
Additional Learning gives pupils the chance to specialise in a particular area within the diploma.
When it happens
Starting September 2008
Construction; Engineering; Creative and Media; IT; Health and Social Care
Starting September 2009
Land-Based Studies; Manufacturing; Hair and Beauty; Business Administration; Hospitality and Catering
Starting September 2010
Public Services; Sport and Leisure; Retail; Travel and Tourism
The North West Vocational Sports Network has an excellent website packed with activities for BTEC sports lessons.
Handy resources for vocational business studies teachers.
A curriculum framework for schools, integrating core work in maths, English and technology with applied BTEC courses.
With advice on turning ideas into cash, as well as regular competitions, it's the perfect way to help pupils catch the enterprise bug.
www.vocationallearning.org.ukresources. The resources section of the Vocational Learning Support site is a one-stop shop for books, CD-Roms and lesson plans.
Books Engaging Employers in Vocational Subjects. Published by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, with a separate booklet for each of the vocational GCSEs, each looking at practical ways of getting industry on board, with case studies included. www.ssatrust.org.ukvocational
Travel and Tourism for BTEC National Award, Certificate and Diploma by Ray Youell (Travel and Tourism Publishing, two volumes, pound;22.99 each). New textbooks, buy either and you get free access to the tandtonline website, offering a range of resources for travel and tourism teachers. www.tandtpublishing.co.uk
Willen Books is a specialist bookshop for schools offering vocational health and beauty courses with all the standard textbooks.