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What next for other courses?

The rise of the diplomas will not, in the short term at least, lead to the demise of other vocational courses, even though ministers admitted last year that the current multiplicity of exams was "confusing".

Many other qualifications, ranging from Btecs to national vocational qualifications and Edexcel's diploma in digital applications, are thriving and will continue. Some of them will be used as the basis for courses offered as part of the diplomas. Students will also continue to be able to take them as free-standing exams.

The only major courses being phased out are general national vocational qualifications, whose ending pre-dates the diplomas, having been planned since 2000. The last GNVQs will be taken next year.

A Qualifications and Curriculum Authority spokesman said there were no plans to discontinue with any existing courses. However, if the diplomas proved a success, both GCSEs and A-levels and existing vocational exams could see their numbers fall. He added that the cross-curricular emphasis of the diplomas, which will incorporate investigations and careers guidance, meant they would offer "many things that other qualifications currently do not".

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