Diploma plan 'risks disaster'

The Government's new diploma programme threatens to be a disaster that will leave teenagers badly prepared for university or work, a report by the University of Buckingham claims.

The basic concept – one qualification which will combine practical skills with academic theory – is flawed, and will undermine educational standards, warn the report's authors, Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson.

The first five diplomas – in media, health, construction, IT and engineering – will be taught to 20,000 teenagers from September. Another 12 diplomas will follow. Ministers believe they could replace A-levels as "the qualification of choice" for students aged 14 to 19.

But the report argued that ministers wanted to scrap A-levels and GCSEs – an approach that "risks disaster". It was "extremely doubtful" whether the same qualification could prepare pupils both for an apprenticeship and for university. The report also expressed concern that the diploma will be assessed internally by teachers, "so it will be difficult to ensure comparability of standards in the same subject, let alone between them".

Most schools are unprepared for the new diplomas, and lack the expert teachers and specialist equipment needed, the report also warned.

The Schools minister, Jim Knight, dismissed the study as "one-sided carping". He added: "The diploma has garnered widespread backing from employers, universities, schools, colleges and education experts."

Ministers have promised to review secondary qualifications in 2013, and have refused to guarantee that A-levels and GCSEs will survive the review.