The new qualification could be a winner for schools looking to up their league table status.Sixteen-year-olds taking the Government's new diploma could emerge with the equivalent of seven GCSE A-star to C passes, it has been revealed. But if they fail to pass any of the key elements, they will end up without a qualification.
Final recommendations about the league table value of diplomas are expected to be made by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in the new year, before the first five start in September.
The Government's preliminary suggestion for the value of diplomas is likely to appeal to headteachers. Schools flocked to offer the GNVQ in IT, worth four GCSEs, after Thomas Telford School in Shropshire demonstrated it was a good way to boost their league table position.
The 7-GCSE equivalence applies to the "higher" diploma - the intermediate of three difficulty levels being offered for the new courses.
A diploma will occupy pupils for three days a week, which the Association of School and College Leaders has calculated might be the equivalent of studying six GCSEs.
John Dunford, ASCL general secretary, said the high value of diplomas in league tables was likely to attract schools to the qualification. But Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, warned that schools might be tempted to steer pupils towards diplomas, even if they were unsuitable.
It is still unclear whether the diplomas' functional English and maths tests would count in the central league table indicator. But pupils will need to pass all four main elements - functional skills, additional and specialist learning, principal learning and the extended project - to pass overall.
A pupil failing one aspect would not gain the diploma, but would be recorded as having passed one of its parts. They could also re-take.
The president of Yale University this week urged the Government to retain A-levels and not allow them to be replaced with diplomas.
But Stephen Probert, of Oxford Brookes University, said the IT diploma available from next year would prepare students much better for degree courses than an A-level in the subject because university courses emphasise business skills.
Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, was out promoting diplomas at Tower Hamlets College in east London, where he said the new courses would "give pupils a head start". But diplomas merited only one line in Gordon Brown's first major speech on education.
A DCSF spokeswoman said: "At all levels, the diploma will be a rigorous and challenging qualification and, as well as subject options and work experience, students will be required to study core skills in English, maths and IT."
Badge for schools tackling gang culture
By David Marley
Schools that take action to tackle gang and youth violence could win special status, The TES has learned. But concerns about their reputation may dissuade some from applying.
The Government's youth offending tsar plans to launch an accreditation system for schools with programmes to protect pupils and communities.
Graham Robb, interim chair of the Youth Justice Board, is discussing a pilot scheme, that is due to start early in the New Year. The move comes in response to renewed concern about gang violence following the killing of 11-year-old Rhys Jones in Liverpool.
The scheme would reward primary and secondary schools that work with police and youth offending teams to reduce the risk of pupils joining gangs and becoming crime victims such as the east London secondary (pictured) where gang members have turned their lives around.
Schools would be expected to use lessons to address the issue, have specific policies to deal with children most at risk, and reduce truancy levels. Extended schools could also play a crucial role, offering pupils a haven between 4pm and 6pm, peak times for youth crime.
Mr Robb said: "If a school is accredited, pupils and the community will know it is committed to tackling gang problems. Many schools have been doing a lot of good work and deserve to be recognised.
"This will help other schools that might be struggling."
The scheme is being drawn up with the London Youth Crime Prevention Board and is expected to be piloted in the capital before being extended across the country. The accreditation process could take as little as three months - the first schools could receive the award by Easter.
Mr Robb will discuss the plan at a conference on gangs being held in Cumbria next week. He fears some schools are afraid of admitting to gang problems in case it gets them a bad reputation.
Kenny Frederick, headteacher of George Green's School in London's Isle of Dogs, will help develop the programme.
"The scheme would work as a signpost for schools unsure of what they should do," she said. "The gang issue has grown in the past four or five years and we have to be aware of who's who and what's going on."