New advanced diplomas to be worth 4.5 A-levels
A new set of "extended" diplomas, including an advanced level qualification worth 4.5 A-levels, will be launched to stretch the most able pupils.
The new advanced level extended diploma will prepare the best pupils for university through research-intensive projects. There will also be an extra focus on core subjects such as English or maths, according to the Government.
The higher level diploma will also be available with an extended core of English, maths and IT and be worth nine good GCSEs instead of the standard seven.
Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, was due to outline plans for the qualifications today at the Association of School and College Leaders' annual conference in Brighton.
Mr Balls was also due to provide more detail on plans to make teaching "a masters-level profession", with a special MA which teachers can gain during their careers.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families said it hoped the new qualifications will be rolled out in all 17 diploma subjects from 2011. Foundation-level diplomas, worth five GCSEs at A* to G, will be worth seven in the extended format.
The new diplomas are clearly designed to appeal to parents and universities uncertain about the value of the qualification, which faces stiff competition from A-levels. The high tariffs may also prove attractive to schools keen to boost their league table position, but traditionalists are certain to say that the equivalency to "gold standard" exams is too generous.
The first five work-related diplomas, in IT; engineering; construction and the built environment; creative and media; and society, health and development, will be introduced from September this year.
Diplomas in science, humanities and foreign languages were announced in October and will be launched at the same time as the new extended diplomas.
Around two thirds of English secondaries have applied to join consortiums teaching diplomas, although it is not known how popular the courses will be with pupils.
Last year, when former education secretary Alan Johnson addressed the ASCL conference, he admitted that the diplomas project could "go horribly wrong" and said few university vice chancellors had been enthusiastic about the project. But some older universities have since voiced their support, including Exeter, Leeds and Warwick.
Headteachers have complained in the past about the resources available for the qualifications.
Plans to make all new teachers study for a masters degree were first outlined in the 10-year Children's Plan, published last year. Writing in the TES today, Mr Balls said: "This will be open to all teachers and we expect every teacher would want to complete it at some stage in their career."
Academics have supported the idea, but said the qualification should focus on classroom rather than essay-writing skills.
Neil Simco, head of education at the University of Cumbria, said that the existing masters degrees were not suitable for everyone.
"At first sight some teachers might find the whole idea of a masters demanding or frightening."
Learn to trust teachers, page 27
Ed Balls, page 29.