Liz Williamson: "The world's changing, so you have to move with the times"
Diplomas are a new qualification aimed at 14 to 19-year-olds for whom the traditional GCSEs and A-levels hold little appeal. They were designed in close collaboration with more than 5,000 employers and higher education institutions, and the idea is that students will be well equipped for work or further education on completion of their diploma.
So what are the implications for teachers? They might be teaching the age group that they are used to, but the syllabus is very different. For Gary Seal, head of media at City of Norwich School in Norfolk, teaching the creative and media diploma has given him more freedom in the curriculum, compared with when he taught English.
"There are risks that come with that freedom, in that sometimes you have to teach something that you're not so familiar with," he says. There are 65-70 pupils currently doing the creative and media diploma and the school is specialising in film, TV and advertising.
"It's not academic; it's a different mindset. I'm having to teach photography and radio, for example, which I had never done before, but I wouldn't teach that unless I wanted to."
From September, 72 per cent of schools and 88 per cent of colleges in England have offered diplomas in 10 subjects; this will rise to 17 subjects by 2011. There are three levels of the qualification - foundation, higher or advanced - and at every level students are required to achieve a set standard in English, maths and information technology and do a minimum of 10 days' work experience.
A major part of the qualification is devising a personal project that puts skills into practice. Each is as individual as the students. Someone taking a technology diploma, for example, may organise a music event and build a website to promote it and create a system to control the music and lighting.
Teachers need to be able to be personally and professionally flexible. "The pupils make greater links between subjects," says Mr Seal. "They may bring what they have learnt in textiles or art into their media work. So you have to be able to meet whatever they come up with."
Sandwich Technology School in Kent will start offering diplomas this September and Liz Williamson, an ICT teacher, has taken on the role of diploma co-ordinator. "For the ICT diploma, I'd say that teachers have to have a working knowledge of their subject," she says. "They might have a degree in programming, but for the diploma it's useful if they have experience of a broader spectrum of skills to fully support the pupils."
Certain qualities are essential to teaching diplomas, Mrs Williamson says. "I'll be looking for someone who is an all-rounder. Staff who have some particularly strong skills but also have business awareness of how things work in the real world. And, of course, you need enthusiasm to be able to take on all this change."
These qualifications are very different from what has gone before, but Mrs Williamson is looking forward to the challenge and thinks they will benefit the students involved.
"Our kids don't know how lucky they are," she says. "There's a hairdressing salon and a construction workshop in the school grounds. The world's changing, so you have to move with the times."
Next week: CPD co-ordinator
WHERE YOU STAND
- Salary Equivalent to teachers delivering other 14-19 qualifications (GCSEs, A-levels, apprenticeships).
- Qualifications No specific additional qualifications are required to teach diplomas, but they demand new approaches to teaching and learning, particularly in terms of working with other providers and the combined academic and applied learning approach. There is a comprehensive support package available to those preparing to teach the diploma that has been designed to respond to the identified needs of individual practitioners.
- Key qualities A desire to develop new skills to support students. Enthusiasm for new teaching methods combining practical and theoretical learning.
- Next steps For more information, see www.diploma-support.org.