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Tories' Diploma seeds will allow us all to grow

Dr John Dunford, General secretary Association of School and College Leaders, on the Tory view on the new Diploma

Dr John Dunford, General secretary Association of School and College Leaders, on the Tory view on the new Diploma

The entitlement for all 14- to 19-year-olds to do any one of the Diplomas may disappear under a Tory government.

In a little-noticed footnote to their press release on 14-19 technical schools, the Conservatives stated that if they win the general election next year they will drop the clause in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 that gives all 14- to 16-year-olds an entitlement to pursue any of the first 14 Diploma lines of learning - and 16- to 19-year-olds an entitlement to all 17 Diploma lines - with effect from 2013.

Under the act, councils will have a duty to secure access for all young people to all the Diplomas. The Government published non-statutory guidance on this in the summer.

Explaining how their proposed technical schools will operate, the Tories have stated they will be free to offer a wide range of vocational qualifications as well as GCSEs and A-levels in core subjects. They will also offer Diplomas, the strongest indication yet that the Conservatives will not abolish them if they are in power, although the final three "academic" Diplomas are unlikely to survive.

But the Tories are clear they "will remove the requirement on local authorities that every child should be able to do every Diploma. This will allow all schools to offer only those Diplomas that they believe are viable qualifications". For "schools" here I trust we can read "colleges and schools".

Colleges and schools have put a huge amount of work into the formation of 14-19 partnerships. The opportunities for young people in areas where there is strong collaboration have increased immensely. But the obligation to offer every Diploma at three levels to all students by 2013 - in effect 51 new qualifications - is a major stumbling block of the Diploma innovation, and most partnerships have not yet cracked it. In rural areas, it is an impossibility. Even in the tightest-knit of urban areas, the logistics are a nightmare scenario.

On that basis, the first 14 Diplomas will take their place alongside other qualifications. As they include excellent and innovative courses, and since the reports from the pilots tell of a high level of satisfaction with the learning experience, many will establish themselves as popular and widely used. Others will perhaps fail to catch on. This is a situation with which the sector is familiar and to which it can respond with its usual flexibility.

Under such an approach, there will also not be pressure to abolish existing successful and well-respected qualifications still popular with students and employers.

So the Tory proposal will be widely welcomed by college and school leaders who would have the unenviable task of doing the impossible to create universal access to 51 Diplomas.

Yet this should not be the end of partnership working on the 14-19 agenda, as established groups will continue together to work out what offering makes the most sense for the young people in their area. College and school leaders know it is by working together that they can provide the best possible provision for their students, employers and communities.

Dr John Dunford, General secretary, Association of School and College Leaders.

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