Diploma values rising
Teenagers who take the new work-related diploma in the next two years will gain the equivalent of eight and a half GCSEs if they pass it, The TES can reveal.
During the development of the intermediate diploma, the Government had suggested it would be worth roughly five or six GCSEs. Then, last December, the formal announcement of equivalences saw the figure raised to seven GCSEs.
But this does not take into account extra points that pupils will get over the next two years for skills tests.
From September, when diplomas are introduced in five subjects in selected areas, all diploma students will have to pass new functional skills tests in English, maths and ICT, alongside learning that is specific to the diploma itself.
A section of questions and answers on diploma league table equivalences on the Department for Children, Schools and Families' (DCSF) website said the functional skills tests, which have been deemed to be worth half a GCSE each, will be counted separately.
This means diploma students will gain eight and a half GCSEs if they pass the main elements of the diploma, plus the compulsory skills tests.
Schools are being advised to allocate just two days a week in their timetables to teaching the diploma, meaning pupils could rack up the equivalent of at least 12 GCSEs if they spent the rest of the week on academic learning.
But the equivalence will only be temporary. For the next two years, only diploma students will take the functional skills tests. But from 2010, they will be incorporated in new English and maths GCSEs.
From then, says the consultation, functional skills tests will not accrue any additional points for league table purposes.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham University's centre for education and employment research, called the tariff "ridiculous".
"This looks like a blatant attempt by the Government to incentivise schools to encourage their pupils to take this qualification," he said.
The DCSF website also explains why the higher diploma has been deemed to be worth three and a half A-levels when it is said to take the same time to teach as three A-levels.
The website says the equivalence recognised the fact that diplomas were "broad, stretching and challenging" and included compulsory functional skills at GCSE level in English, maths and ICT, plus work-related learning.
A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said it was confident that the allocated performance points accurately reflected the teaching time needed to deliver diplomas.