Education Essays - Diploma Qualifications Education

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Diploma Qualifications Education

The Diploma Conundrum (Education Reform for 14 to 19)


Back in February 2005 the 14 to 19 Education and Skills White Paper was published in response to the Working Group on 14-19 Reform, chaired by Sir Mike Tomlinson. It set out the Government proposals for introducing the qualifications and curriculum changes that were needed to create a system capable of offering a new set of curriculum and qualifications opportunities, built around the needs and aspirations of each young person. The (Specialised) Diploma was formed as the key to these changes.

Why did the government need the Tomlinson Report on 14-19 Education and Skills?

Well it was made quite clear by the Prime Minister Rt. Hon. A. Blair in 1997 that “Education, Education, Education” was one of his government’s main priorities. A world class standard of education was going to be built to enable Britain to successfully compete with the rest of the world, or words to that effect.

Over the past 10 years the government has imposed a considerable number of educational reforms to raise standards and backed them up with substantial investments in schools, but still UK Plc. performs poorly in the international academic league tables of developed countries. The staying-on rates for teenagers in training and education after 16 is poor.

Quoting from the Education Guardian Government must try harder on FE reforms ‘The UK ranked 24th. out of 29 developed nations. When comparing the adult skills of the workforce the UK is 17th. out of 30 developed nations. There is an inconsistency in FE provision and a failure by the FE colleges to meet the needs of employers and learners’ (March, 27, 2006).

The momentum for change has been building up even prior to the Review of Vocational Qualifications back in the early 1980’s. Since then there has been a number of reports on the state of education in this country. A very important milestone that increased the impetus for change was the ‘report ‘A Fresh Start-Improving Literacy and Numeracy (DfEE, 1999)’, headed by Sir Claus Moser. The findings of “The Moser Report” as it became known were thus:


  • 5.2 million Adults (16% of the population) were at Entry Level 3 or below.
  • 17.8 million Adults (56% of the population) were below Level 2.
  • 22% of adults in the North East had an Entry Level in Literacy compared with 12% in the South East.


  • 6.8 million Adults (21% of the population) at Entry Level 2 or below.
  • 23.8 million Adults (75% of the population) were below Level 2.
  • 54% of adults in the North East have Entry Level in Numeracy compared with 41% in the South East.

The Moser Report concluded with this alarming statement:

“One in Five adults has less literacy than is expected of an 11 year old child”


Sir Claus Moser chairman of the Basic Skills Agency reported in 1999 that over an estimated 7 million adults in England had difficulties with literacy and numeracy. They therefore had difficulty undertaking simple tasks such as writing a letter, reading a newspaper article or calculating change; tasks that we may take for granted.

An example given in the report was that if given the Yellow Pages such adults could not find the page for plumbers. Not all of the 7 million adults will have the same learning needs. The Basic Skills Agency has identified four groups.

  • The largest group of just over 4 million adults needs a modest amount of help to brush up their skills to the required level.
  • The middle group of just fewer than 1.5 million adults need more specific in-depth help.
  • The lower level group of just fewer than 1.5 million adults required intensive training by specialist teachers.
  • The last group consisted of an estimated 500,000 adults for whom English is not their first language. A separate but related curriculum has been developed for this group of learners, known as ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

The above findings indicated that England alone had a greater proportion of functionally illiterate adults than any western country apart from Poland and Ireland. In order for the UK plc., economy to succeed in a very competitive world, this problem had to be addressed by the government of the day and quickly.

The recommendations of the report brought about the ‘Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit’ now known as Skills for Life, this being the title of the strategy for improving adults literacy and numeracy levels, which was launched in 2001. What is needed is the teaching of key (common core) skills, which are transferable to most subject disciplines.

Reece & Walker’s definition of Key Skills is: “The possession and development of sufficient knowledge, appropriate attitudes and experience for successful performance in life role. This includes employment and other forms of work; it implies maturity and responsibility in a variety of roles; and it includes experience as an essential element of competence”. (2003 p219)

Whilst recognising the problems of having 17.8 million Adults below Level 2 in Literacy and 23.8 million Adults below Level 2 in Numeracy may cause the economy of UK plc. to be uncompetitive; it is important to remember when considering what corrective measures are needed, that apart from the 500,000 adults for whom English is not their first language the majority have had at least eleven years of education in a system that has failed them.

According to the Department for Education and Skills in their executive summary on 14-19 education and skills, Primary Schools standards are at their highest ever level and in international comparisons match the best anywhere. Secondary schools 2004 results are at their best with over 53% of young people passing 5 or more A*- C grade GCSE’s, an 8% improvement on 1997 figures.(2005 p1) Historically there has always been a poor level of participation in post 16 education.

For this reason the government introduced the Education Maintenance Allowances to provide an incentive for 16-19 year olds to stay in education. Numbers staying on have increased but UK plc. remains low in the international comparison tables, hence the need for the Tomlinson Report on 14-19 Education and Skills.

Peter Tymms and Christine Merrell authors of the Cambridge – based Primary Review (an independent inquiry) have stated that “Five hundred million pounds was spent on the National Literacy Strategy with almost no impact on reading levels.” “Standards of reading have remained more or less the same over a very long time - since the 1950’s”. BBC News/Education (02/11/2007)

What reform is needed? Looking through the Tomlinson report some of the issues that standout are:

  • The need to raise participation and achievement particularly in post 16 education, offer a greater choice, raise standards for learners with a clear progression to FE, HE and employment.
  • To get the educational and skills standards core right and provide more individualised main learning to equip young people for employment and adult life.
  • Strengthen vocational route to higher education.
  • To ensure that young people are given both an opportunity to stretch their imagination and the right sort of challenge to develop their minds and skills.
  • Reduce the assessment burden upon young people and teaching staff.
  • The necessity to make the system more transparent and easier to understand by young people, employers and colleges.

The next 5 years will see a number of changes to the education system designed to give children and young people the necessary basic skills for work and life. Increasing the number of young people achieving level 2 by the time they are 19 years of age. The proposals were first announced in a Government White Paper in February 2005 and more detailed plans have followed in December 2005.

The need for young people to master more ‘Functional’ English, ICT (Information Communication Technology) and mathematics skills is emphasised in plans to create tougher GCSE’s for these three subjects. Also, a new General Diploma consisting of five GCSE’s - which must include English and mathematics, which will contain ‘Functional Skills’ elements, will be phased in from September 2008.

The Diploma programme is planned to be fully operational by 2013. ‘Functional Skills’ are practical applied skills needed by young people to operate confidently, effectively as well as independently. They are the skills identified by employers as vital if young people are to succeed in further learning, employment and life in general. Reform at Key Stage 3 (11 to 14 years old) and Key Stage 4 (14 to 16 years old) has been proposed in order to increase flexibility in the curriculum and enable pupils to reach their maximum potential, or to allow time for catching up if required. The three key targets related to participation, attainment and engagement are cited in the 14-19 Implementation Plan (DfES, 2005b).

  • To increase attainment by the age of 19 at Level 2 from 67% in 2004 to a minimum of 72% by 2008.
  • Secondly, increasing the number of young people completing apprenticeships by 75% in 2008 as compared to that of 2003.
  • Finally, raising the number of young people participating in education to 90% by 2015 from a base figure of 75% currently. It is planned to reduce the number not in education, employment or training by 2% by 2010.

From the figures above, which were included in the Journal of Education Policy p661 a lot is riding on the success of the Specialised Diplomas. The target of young people participating in education, employment or training has been set at an improvement of 13% between 2010 and 2015. The scheme will have only been fully running for two years.

It is intended that the Vocational routes will also be revised with employers and universities having more input into what is studied, offering more practical learning which will be beneficial in working life.

There is undoubtedly a strong case for improving the skills need at all levels of potential recruits of the Hospitality and Catering industry. The most up to-date key facts and figures show that the skills gap is:

  • 15% of the workforce do not hold any qualification.
  • 16% of hotel and accommodation managers and 14% of publicans and managers of licensed premises have no qualifications at all at skilled trade level.
  • 14% of chefs have no qualifications.
  • Nearly 25% of businesses reported that their staff are not fully proficient to meet the needs of their business. This equates to 10% of the workforce within the industry as compared to 7% across the whole economy.
  • The skills most lacking according to employers are customer handling skills, communication skills, team working, followed by technical and practical skills. Teaching these skills are part of the Skills for Life Quality Initiative which commenced in September 2007.(dfes 10/2006)
  • Labour turnover is 30% per annum for the whole sector, however large organisation report figures of 60% to 90%. This may be due to the seasonal nature of some of the organizations?

Data obtained from

Historically, Hospitality and Catering has been seen as a suitable area to direct the non academic, under achiever. When interviewing young people who had applied for work, I noted that their application forms lack even basic qualifications. The candidates were often sent by parents, careers advisors or job centres as they were unable to ascertain what type of work the young person was interested in. Could the Diplomas route give the young person a chance to find out what they might be good at, before they have to choose what type of work they would like to undertake to earn a living?

Students will have the opportunity by September 2010 to choose from 14 new employer-designed Specialised Diplomas; enabling them to focus on subjects they feel they are well suited too. Each will be taught at three levels. If a student can only master the functional core skills, this will be recognised by the award of a certificate.

Students will be able to select which level of Specialised Diploma they are suited too. Employers are adamant that existing courses do not produce potential employees with the skills they need to function effectively in the workplace, especially in communication. The importance being placed upon mandatory “core skills” strengthen the certificates validity.

Each Specialised Diploma will have mandatory skills in mathematics, English and IT user skills, plus personal learning and thinking skills. The Diploma will involve project work and at least 10 days work experience. There will be mandatory specialised subject units at the appropriate level, as well as a choice of optional learning.

On the 3rd January 2007 I had the opportunity to attend a workshop to discuss the introduction of Specialized Diplomas with Ken Miller, Senior Inspector, Greenwich Education Services. He is responsible for co-ordinating their introduction in the London Borough of Greenwich. He informed the group that the Specialised Diplomas will be taught throughout the borough on Mondays and Tuesdays when students will attend the centres of excellence for their chosen subject.

The Specialised Diplomas are not regarded as formal qualifications in their particular area. They are an academic qualification through which a student can eventually progress to further or higher education. This academic drift follows the same pattern as the previous vocational qualifications. There have been hold- ups with regards to producing the syllabuses for the Specialised Diplomas due to lack of information from employers.

Local Educational Authorities and the Learning and Skills Council are charged with ensuring that the full range of Diplomas are available to all young people in their area. Offering pupils/students access to a personalised learning, including all 14 Diplomas will require changes throughout the education system. It is accepted that to meet such an entitlement of study cannot be met by an individual school or college alone.

Schools and colleges and other training providers need to work in collaboration with each other on a local level. Each LEA has had to appoint a local 14 to 19 Coordinator to advise and assist on the setting-up consortiums/partnerships. Such collaboration between a number of diverse institutions already exists between specialists schools in many areas were academies have been set up.

The first 5 Diplomas are due to be on stream by September 2008, however according to Teachernet Diploma Gateway, “Not all schools and colleges will be able to offer Diplomas in 2008. Those who wish to deliver these Diplomas will need to pass through a Gateway 1. to assess the consortium’s readiness to deliver.” (05/11/2007). The subjects in the first wave are Creative and Media, Construction and the Built Environment, Engineering*, Information Technology* and Society, Health and Development*.

*Vocational GCSEs (double awards) exist in this subject since September 2002.

Local partnerships interested in offering any of the Diplomas will have to pass through a Gateway which will assess their readiness to deliver the course. My specialist subject is Hospitality and Catering (H&C) and I will therefore use this subject as the basis of explaining the process using my research from an interviews with Stephen Wilson, Head of Hospitality & Catering at Shooters Hill Post 16 Campus at Woolwich. (28th. Nov 2007 & 2nd. April 2008)

H&C is time tabled to be introduced in September 2009 and the bid to run the Specialised Diploma has to be processed through Gateway 2. The process of forming consortium was undertaken by Greenwich LEA and a bid was put together by Stephen Wilson and submitted 30th. November 2007. The detailed criteria for the Diploma qualifications at level 1, 2 and 3 were provided by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority QCA/07/3322 (July 2007). The summary of the Diploma Development Partnership’s (DDDP’s) current approach to specialist learning, plus a Specific Guidance, was provided by People 1st.

The consortium is based around Shooters Hill as the centre of excellence; which is a new facility and has delivered the following achievements:





Skills Working Life (SH)
















GCSE Product Design, KS4

81% (A-C)

83% (A-C)

73% (A-C)

The recent Ofsted report describes SH facilities and curriculum as exceptional and this has more than satisfied the Gateway. A skills audit was undertaken to identify the strength and weaknesses of the curriculum team delivering the Diploma. This has resulted in areas of CPD being addressed including the up-dating of teacher’s skills and the appointment of a Hospitality Tutor.

The make up of the consortium is as follows SH, Plumstead Manor and Kidbrooke, links with Greenwich IAG, working with local HE partners/Thames Valley University, Bexley & Greenwich EBP and local Connexions. The arrangements regarding the allocation of the programme delivery was agreed.

The facilities and the number of learners (30) to be accommodated were also agreed. Arrangements are in hand to provide a bar and reception at SH. The existing working relationships with employers and the availability of placements, including Celebrity Chef visits and the development of healthy school meals in partnership with the Borough Market Food Initiative were excellent.

Work experience placements include the Claredon Hotel, Rules Restaurant, Ivy Restaurant, ISS Charter House, GPS, Sodexo @ HSBC and possibly Sainsbury’s. All aspects of the bid were found to be ‘Good’ and approval was given at the end of March 2008. The LEA is responsible for ensuring that the public and other schools have the details of courses on offer. The finance available for the first year of delivery is £14,000 per consortium plus £7,000 per subject. There is also £1,000 per recognised place. So now it is all down to promoting the course to ensure its success or is it?

I am currently taking part in the Students Associates Scheme at Swanley Technology College were they are operating a Training Vocational Centre (TVOC) where year 10 students take part in vocational courses such as hairdressing, beauty therapy, carpentry & joinery, painting & decorating, motor vehicle maintenance and brickwork. Students studying media studies and music technology study at Hextable Academy of Music & Dance.

Whilst those studying Land Based Studies attend Wilmington Business Academy. The special needs pupils from Furness and Rowhill attend courses within the partnership schools. Any pupil wishing to study a Diploma would be referred to another consortium. For example, for Hospitality and Catering, the pupil would attend North West Kent College, Gravesend for their specialised subject.

“The Diplomas are the first major qualification reform ever to be led by employers, in this they are unique,” Ken Boston addressing the National Education Business Partnership (NEBP) Network conference (15/12/2007). This body acts as an agency between employers and schools. According to the National Audit Office reporting on the progress of preparation of the first five Diplomas, finds that the message needs reinforcing with employers.

All of the partnerships of schools, colleges and LEA’s are supposed to involve employers in developing their plans for education for 14 to 19 year olds. However the NAO found that 45% have not managed to do so. Does this matter? As you can see from the SH bid the employers are engaged in providing 10 days work experience. Some of them already do this for the present NVQ students. “Two thirds of the partnerships have encountered difficulties arranging the required 10 days work experience “according to the BBC News: education report (15/12/2007).

Work-related learning is meant to be at the heart of the new curriculum, the Diplomas are supposed to be an “employer-led qualification” to bridge academic and practical learning. The employers had no role in the creation of O and A-levels as they were the preserve of the universities. Business had little influence in the creation of the GCSEs some twenty years ago.

The Leitch Review (04/2005) highlighted that the UK’s workforce skills were poor. The government listened and has finally given employers the opportunity to reform the curriculum. Some large companies have thrown themselves into Diploma design, but many smaller companies appear to be woefully unaware of what the Diploma is about.

The Department for children, school and families has tried hard to get the elite universities to support the Diploma as a route into High Education. The department has announced the introduction of three new Diplomas in Sciences, Language and Humanities which are non-vocational subjects. Is this to seek favor with the Russell Group of universities who have expressed reservations? It is essential to get universities to accept the Diploma.

A survey in the summer of 2007 showed that fewer than 40% of admissions officers saw the Diplomas as a good alternative to A-levels, despite the Advanced Diploma being valued by the QCA as worth 3.5 A-levels. As stated by A Hodgson & K Spours (11/2007) the Diplomas “have never been able to escape the shadow of A-levels.” “The success of broad vocational qualifications in their ‘motivational’ role means that they are seen as an ‘alternative’ curriculum (Spours, 1997; Williams, 1999.). GNVQs and AVCEs were both designed as post 16 courses in schools and colleges and failed to articulate with apprenticeships and work-based learning. (Further Education Development Agency/Institute of Education/Nuffield 1997).

The BTEC National awards were an exception to the trend and were favored by both employers and institutions as they adapted to meet the demand. An additional weakness of the GNVQs and AVCEs was that they are both bogged down in the complicated NVQ style competence assessment methodology, producing mediocre attainment, performance and learner instrumentalism according to Bates, 1997; Ecclestone, 2002, 2006; Savory et al., 2003 quoted in the Journal of Education.22.6,657-673. NVQs were originally designed as a work-place based programme with an assessor visiting the trainees at their place of work.

In many areas the NVQ soon became post 16 campus, college taught, thus removing it from the real world and making it much more easily managed. The successful placement of students very much depended on how strong the links were maintained between the institution and local businesses. It is all too easy for institutions to get all wrapped up in meeting targets and allowing ‘practice to take presidency over purpose’

According to Hodgson A. & Spours K. ( Nov 2007) Diplomas have been created to provide a real alternative to traditional education and qualifications. Because of their unique design, Diplomas are equally suitable for the most able pupils preparing for demanding university courses; for young people who find the existing education system doesn’t suit them and for those who want to go straight into work after leaving school. Unsurprisingly they feel as I do, that this is a tall order for any set of qualifications and once it is suggested as an ‘alternative route’ it becomes the second tier of a two tier system, in class riddled Britain it is ‘trade as apposed to class’.

I fear that despite the efforts of the government, the Russell group will continue to pour scorn on the Diploma as a means of direct access, preferring a pre-university entrance examination. The 80 plus group of universities will go for the baccalaureate as a possible rigorous qualification. I suggest these alternatives as the universities do not want the government to tinker with the A-levels as this will be seen as dubbing them down.

The 1000 plus universities will embrace the Diploma as a matter of survival along with all the other qualifications that have a QCA score. Pressure will continue to be made by the elite to increase the academic content of the Diploma as this is their vocation. The Diploma will suffer and not be fit for purpose and the non- academic pupils will as usual miss out. It must be possible to engage non-academic pupils through vocational learning without the need to insist that the academic rigor must equate to so many A-levels, forgetting who we were targeting in the first place with the introduction of the Diplomas.


  • Education Guardian ‘Government must try harder on FE reforms’ (March, 27, 2006)
  • The Moser Report ‘A Fresh Start-Improving Literacy and Numeracy’ DfEE Publications (1999)
  • Department of Education and Skills: (December 2006)
  • Reece I. & Walker S ‘ed’, Walker-Gleaves C. (2003) Teaching and Learning: A Practical Guide, Sunderland: Business Education Publishers Ltd.
  • BBC News: education (December 07, 2005)Web Site: (access24/ 01/2007)
  • The 14-19 Gateway: (December 2006)
  • 14-19 Education and Skills: Department for Education and Skills: DfES Publications ( February 2005) (access 15/04/08)
  • Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) : (access 01/01/2007)
  • ‘Prepared by Besley Final report from the ‘Tolinson’ Group Comment and Coverage S, Authorized by Sokoloff : London Qualifications Ltd (November 2004)
  • BBC News: education report(15/12/2007).’ Ken Boston addressing the National Education Business Partnership (NEBP) Network conference’.
  • The Leitch Review (04/2005) (accessed 24/04/2008)
  • Teachernet Diploma Gateway,” (05/11/2007)
  • A Hodgson & K Spours (11/2007) Journal of Education Policy Volume 22, No.6 ‘Speciaised Diplomas: transforming the 14-19 landscape in England: University of London, Routledge Downloaded by Uni of Greenwich on 31/10/2007
  • Further Education Development Agency/Institute of Education/Nuffield (1997):London FEDA
  • Bates I. ( 1997)An exploration of the GNVQ, Occasional Paper 7;Leeds , School of Education, University of Leeds
  • Ecclestone (06/09/,2006) ;Assessment in post-compulsory education paper 2. presented to the British Educational Research Ass. University of Warwick,
  • Savory et al.( 2003). The advanced Vocational Certificate of Education, IOE/Nuffield series 7, London, Institute of Education University of London.
  • Wilson S. (28/11/2007 – 02/04/2008) Interviews @ Shooters Hill 16 Plus Campus, Red Lion Road London SE18 4LD
  • Wilson S. (Nov 2007) 14-19 Partnership Statement for Gateway 2
  • Data obtained from