U-turn in diploma launch schedule

21st October 2005 at 01:00
The Government's curriculum watchdog appears to have been forced into a climbdown after criticising ministers' plans to introduce major new vocational qualifications by 2008.

In May, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority asked Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, to postpone the launch of new work-related diplomas by two years to 2010, according to previously confidential papers revealed this week.

But it appears to have been overruled. Plans to introduce vocational or "specialised" diplomas in four subjects in 2008 were announced in a white paper in February and ministers appear to be sticking to the timetable.

In a letter to Ms Kelly, dated May 10, 2005, Sir Anthony Greener, QCA chairman, warned it would not have sufficient time to trial the changes properly.

He wrote: "Our advice is that the timetable proposed... will not permit a full and robust programme of piloting, the importance of which you have acknowledged. We would advise that a national roll-out be delayed until 2010 to enable a two-year pilot to be undertaken".

The letter also voices concerns after the Government said the new diplomas and changes proposed in the skills white paper would have to be paid for and developed from existing budgets.

Sir Anthony said: "Without new funding, it will not be possible to carry out this work".

By the summer, the QCA had changed its stance on both fronts.

In a letter dated June 7, Ms Kelly offered the authority pound;2.5 million to work on the curriculum developments outlined in the white papers.

In a letter to Ms Kelly of July 14, Ken Boston, QCA chief executive, agreed to launch five new diplomas in 2008. Ms Kelly wrote back on July 28 to say she was "delighted".

A QCA spokesman offered no reason for the change of position.

In his May 10 letter, Sir Anthony also criticised the name "specialised diploma", which he said was misleading because pupils undertaking the programme would receive a broad education for most of it.

Writing in today's TES, Geoff Lucas, secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, warns that the diploma plans could favour vocational students and leave more academic youngsters with an "impoverished" curriculum.

Mr Lucas said that pupils on the diploma programmes would potentially enjoy better preparation for adult life than those taking A-levels.

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