Balls to announce extended diplomas to rival A-levels

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The Independent Online

The Government will try to knock the A-level off its pedestal as the gold standard for education today by announcing new extended versions of its flagship diplomas which will be worth up to four-and-a-half A-levels.

Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, will announce tougher diplomas which demand better English and maths skills and more individual research as part of an attempt to silence critics who argue that the exams will lack academic rigour and fail to stretch the brightest students. Mr Balls will also announce plans for teaching to become a masters-level profession by developing a qualification which new teachers will be expected to complete within their first five years in the profession. The proposal would entail postgraduate trainees starting to work towards their masters during their PGCE year from this September.

Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders conference in Brighton, Mr Balls will try to attract bright students to the diploma programme who would normally opt to take four or more A-levels. The diplomas, which combine vocational learning with academic study, are to be introduced from September.

They will eventually be offered in 17 subjects, including hair and beauty, hospitality, engineering and media, as well as traditional academic areas such as humanities, science and languages.

John Dunford, general secretary of the ASCL, gave the tougher diplomas a cautious welcome. "We do not want diplomas to become courses for those who can't do academic courses," he said. "So it is welcome that the Government is trying to attract brighter students on to diplomas, but the diploma structure is complex and this risks making it even more complex."

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