A Week in Education

JUST A few months ago, they were hailed as the most important education reform in the world. Ever. But as diplomas edge closer, it all risks going "horribly wrong".

Not the warnings of traditionalists, opposed to "soft option" vocational training, but the doom-laden predictions of Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary.

Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders' annual conference, he said diplomas risked becoming the secondary moderns of qualifications.

Perhaps Mr Johnson's wobble was brought on by news that another Government big idea - the International Baccalaureate - has had a stuttering start.

Bexley business academy entered 19 pupils last year, but none managed to secure the highly prized certificate. The school will be returning to standard qualifications.

Perhaps Bexley pupils would have done better if their language skills had been of a higher level. Lord Dearing hopes to make sure that this is the case for all, following publication of his report calling for compulsory language lessons from the age of seven.

If his proposals are implemented, teenagers will be able to drop languages at 14, but not before they have had the chance to study Mandarin, Urdu and Farsi. He confirmed that pupils are put off language GCSEs because they are perceived as difficult.

It was also revealed this week that some schools are spending more on exam fees than they are on books. The cost of designing new syllabuses is being passed on from exam boards to schools, a survey found, with fees shooting up by 50 per cent over the past three years.

But some schools had other money worries. King's College, the Pounds 12,000-a-year Wimbledon school, has had to bring in experts to wean pupils off gaming. Not hockey or rugby, though - the boys are learning about the perils of poker.

In a national framework for nurseries, launched this week, babies are to be given marks for the quality of their gurgling and babbling, and how well they play with their toes.

The early years foundation stage curriculum is for babies from birth to five years old, with nurseries having to record progress towards 69 early-learning goals.


The scrapping of the diplomas will be welcomed by just about the whole of the education establishment.

The Daily Telegraph WE SAY...

Alan Johnson is nervous about the introduction of diplomas. Given their scope, he is probably not alone. The vocational courses for 14 to 19-year-olds have already received millions of pounds of investment to bring together business leaders and educators. The first five diploma subjects are due to start next September, with apparently much still to do.

But there is no reason to believe the education establishment wishes them to fail.

Most schools, while aware of the challenges, are excited about offering more choice to their pupils. Local authorities are eagerly bidding to offer the first wave. And the unions, while cautious, have backed the reform.

Full report, page 16

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