Diplomas have credibility problem

Parents and students still need to be convinced about the credibility of diplomas, a committee of MPs has found.

The public accounts committee (PAC) wants the government to improve collaboration between consortia of schools and colleges to improve the diplomas’ rollout.

Shadow children’s secretary Michael Gove said: “Not only are there problems with patchy provision, but this report suggests the government has no idea about the costs of implementing the reforms.”

Diplomas, designed to increase participation in education and training for pupils aged 14 to 19, are being introduced in stages from this year onwards up until 2013.

A mix of vocational and academic learning, 14 separate diploma disciplines will eventually be offered.

MPs on the committee, which published a new report today, want the government to help consortia involved in their implementation and ensure the associated facilities are up to scratch.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said making the diplomas work would require “concerted and coordinated efforts”.

“And that will include involving employers in providing essential work experience,” he said.

“The importance of getting this right cannot be overstated. Our committee heard that some of the consortia responsible for delivering the diplomas were much more advanced than others in their preparations. For instance, just under half of the consortia had yet to determine whether they had enough appropriately skilled teaching staff to deliver the full range of diplomas by 2013.

“This need for a large proportion of the consortia to be better prepared must be addressed.

“It demonstrates that, despite the leading role played by local authorities, the department will have to continue for some years to play a major role in delivering these educational changes.”

Mr Leigh added that the diplomas could complicate the educational options open to children aged 14 and 16.

“Young people must make the right educational choices and that means that they and their parents require clear and complete information on what’s available,” he said.

“They will also want to be convinced that higher education institutions and employers accept the diplomas as credible qualifications.”

Commenting on the report, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “The [PAC] has rightly identified tensions in the roll-out of the 14-19 reforms, however, these tensions are not about the reforms, but about their implementation.

“There are a raft of reasons for tension – some schools and colleges are rolling out the reforms while others are not, some are playing a full part and some are not, schools and colleges are simultaneously being asked to compete with one another and collaborate together, there are significant differences in the pay, conditions and status of school and further education college staff, and students and parents are likely to be confused because diplomas are joining a set of existing vocational qualifications which they are supposed to replace in due course.

“These tensions need to be resolved and seen for what they are – symptoms of how the roll-out is being carried out.

“If these implementation issues are not resolved they might lead to bigger problems and risk derailing the diplomas altogether.”

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), added: “The select committee have sensibly and accurately identified the continual problems behind the acceptability of diplomas.

“If diplomas are to be understood as a serious qualification then the government has to ensure that universities and employers accept them.”