Diploma juggernaut: drivers wanted

28th March 2008 at 00:00
Like Geoff Barton ("Slow the Diploma juggernaut before it drives us all mad", TES, March 14), and as a fellow head of a successful school with good GCSEs and A-levels, I have concerns and doubts about diplomas' long-term success.

One reason I have doubts is because of the very pontificating we heads are apt to engage in over such developments. Although often the most far-sighted and strategic of thinkers and planners, the bravest of initiators, the most tenacious of implementers, heads are somewhat prone to institutional myopia.

We are very good at knowing what works best in our schools, for our pupils, parents and communities. That is why we should, in fact, be the last people to guide and drive the diplomas' development.

These diplomas are a once-in-an-educational-lifetime chance to do something genuinely fundamental. I and many of my colleagues have waited a long time and through many frustrating false starts for something that can really give teenagers authentic differential curricula of equal status and esteem, as well as assured routes into higher education.

Diplomas offer something more fundamental than just another tranche of tests and assessment. They offer a "type" of teaching and learning - especially learning - that will suit many more pupils. With the "freeing up" of the national curriculum (and the unilateral decision of many schools to "downgrade" the key stage 3 assessment regime and focus on a transformation in pupil learning), diplomas can play a significant part across the country in engaging not only disaffected pupils, but also those who will thrive in a different assessment climate.

We are ready for a shift in learning. Diplomas offer a vehicle for this. It is a vehicle that is a juggernaut, but which does not need slowing down: it needs steering. Heads may not be the best people to drive this - it requires a wide view and the ability to step outside one's own institution - but I urge us all to "do our bit".

Dr Barry Wratten, Headteacher, Churchill Community Foundation School and Sixth Form Centre, North Somerset.

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