Uncertain take-up for vocational diplomas

8th February 2008 at 00:00
Two-thirds of English secondary schools have applied to teach the new diploma qualification within the next 18 months. But it is still not known how many will actually run the courses, or how popular they will be with pupils.

More than 2,000 secondaries and three-quarters of sixth form and further education colleges have put in bids to run the work-related courses in up to nine subject areas from September 2009, the Government announced this week.

But the applications are all subject to approval by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Numbers will not be known until next month.

Some schools and colleges say they put in bids at the request of local authorities, but will not decide whether to run the diplomas until nearer the time.

One college principal said: "It's not that everyone is really eager to do the diplomas. It's just that there is a recognition that you've bloody well got to."

Uncertainty remains over how popular the qualifications will be with students. Reports this week - that 40,000 teenagers would be taking the new courses from September - were based on predictions made more than a year ago by local authorities, schools and colleges.

There is, as yet, no published information on how many pupils are opting for the courses. It is known that 833 schools and 164 colleges are involved in partnerships that will be teaching the first diplomas to be introduced from September.

Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, told MPs this week: "Diplomas are proving a popular choice for schools and colleges. They will offer learners a new route into further and higher education, as well as into skilled work."

News of the number of bids comes as the diplomas - which are intended to be offered in 17 subjects by 2011 - continue to divide opinion. Last week, a report by the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education warned that the diplomas could leave pupils under-prepared for degree courses.

However, leading employers have spoken of their support for the diplomas, and the fact that the new courses will count for seven GCSEs and 3.5 A-levels in league tables is likely to increase their popularity.

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