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What to expect in the new qualifications

All the diplomas are to be offered at three levels. Level 1 will be broadly equivalent in workload for pupils to four to five GCSEs grade A* to C; level 2 to five to six GCSEs; and level 3 to three A-levels. There will also be a smaller "certificate" version of the level 3 diploma, equal to two A-levels. At all levels, the diplomas will consist of:

* Principal learning: a compulsory section of teaching related to the specific sector.

* Additionalspecialist learning: optional units.

* Generic learning: another compulsory section, covering personal learning and thinking skills, a project, work experience and maths, English and ICT.

GCSEs and A-levels can be incorporated into the new courses if pupils and teachers choose to do so.

In information technology, at levels 2 and 3, students will take eight compulsory modules, making up two-thirds of the qualification. At level 3, the emphasis will be on understanding business's use of the discipline with subjects ranging from "business functions" to "IT solutions", and a personal project. At level 2, the compulsory core will consist of English, maths and ICT functional skills courses, plus extra English and maths, more businessIT courses and a project.

The rest of these diplomas are optional courses, which could include GCSEs and A-levels. Level 1 is an introductory course.

Response to consultation suggests IT employers also want students to be assessed against a "framework of behaviour". Teachers would have to say whether pupils, for example, were punctual and reliable in meeting commitments. The diploma will also stress English skills. At level 3, high standards of grammar, punctuation and "writing for business" will be expected, the draft says.

And optional units students could offer include Duke of Edinburgh awards, practical music exams, volunteering and "exceptional sporting achievements".

In engineering, level 1 features three compulsory modules: an introduction to engineering careers and their impact on life; an induction in engineering technology; and a look at the future of technology. Level 2 includes eight mandatory units, including health and safety; maths and science for technology, which will see pupils using mechanics to solve engineering problems; and computer-aided design. Level 3 has 10 compulsory modules, including "business improvement" techniques; maths and science (at A-level standard or above) and tendering for contracts.

Optional courses at level 2 include "bio-engineering" and "telecommunications". At level 3, vehicle engineering technology and languages are optional.

Courses within the creative and media diploma are being offered in six subject headings: advertising, craft, design, music, performing arts and visual arts.

Students will be encouraged to specialise in one of these areas, on which they should spend 60 per cent of their time. There will also be compulsory courses covering "industry-wide" issues, such as health and safety, intellectual property rights and "introductory politics and current affairs".

Optional courses are business studies, a language, humanities subjects, Duke of Edinburgh awards and graded music exams.

The construction and the built environment diploma will emphasise project and field work, and students working together to solve problems.

Skills for Health, which is developing the health and social care diploma, would not say what was in it.

Warwick Mansell

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