The labour Government's high-profile Diploma qualification is to be dealt a fresh setback this month, with the numbers completing it expected to be less than one sixth of initial take-up targets.
A maximum of 8,000 students will gain the Diploma through results to be published over the next three weeks alongside national A-level and GCSE grades.
This compares with an initial Government expectation, published in 2005, that up to 50,000 learners would study the work- related courses in their first two years, from 2008 to 2010. It is also only two-thirds of the 12,000 teenagers who embarked on the first courses two years ago.
The majority of Diploma students are at GCSE-equivalent level, with fewer than 3,000 believed to have started courses at level 3, A-level equivalent, in 2008. Government figures show that, in one subject, manufacturing, only 14 students in the whole of England were enrolled on level 3 diploma courses last year.
Just over 200 Diploma students collected their results last summer, after only a year of study.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We expect up to 8,000 to attempt to complete a Diploma this summer. Some who started in September 2008 completed last summer, while others have decided not to continue to the end of their course, opting to take other qualifications instead. Additionally, because the Diploma can be completed at any point, some students will choose to complete their course after results day."
Numbers are believed to have been dispirited by a sense that the qualification is hard to pass: students have to obtain functional skills tests in English, maths and ICT to pass overall, which has affected success rates. League table pressures and a wait-and-see approach from schools and colleges are also thought to be factors in the low take-up.
However, Diploma courses have generally gone down well with those who have taken them. An analysis for the Government of students' views of the courses in their first year showed that approaching 80 per cent were satisfied with them, with about one in four "very satisfied".
Qualifications, pages 16-17.