Government diplomas are too easy for the brightest children

Standards are lower and do not test more able students like A-levels, says Ofqual
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The Independent Online

The Government's flagship new diplomas are failing to stretch the brightest pupils, the independent exams watchdog ruled yesterday.

Ofqual, the exams regulator, warned that the standards shown by pupils taking diplomas were lower than those sitting other types of exams.

Its report concluded: "Some question papers did not provide enough opportunities for more able candidates to demonstrate the extent of their knowledge, understanding and skills."

The report is the first to emerge from an in-depth study of how the new diplomas are being assessed and comes at a time when the future of the new qualification is shrouded in doubt. The Conservatives have said they will scrap three new academic diplomas – in science, modern languages and the humanities – which are due to be introduced in two years' time. The Liberal Democrats would prefer an overarching diploma covering both academic and vocational qualifications, an idea that was proposed in a government inquiry by the former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has claimed that the diplomas could take over from A-levels as the natural route through education for 16- to 18-year-olds. In its report, Ofqual looked at three of the new qualifications in detail: engineering offered by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance and City and Guilds exam board; society, health and development by Edexcel; and creative and media studies offered by the Oxford and Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts board.

It accused both the AQA and Edexcel qualifications of failing to provide enough challenge for the brightest students. Topics covered in the engineering diploma included carrying out "day in the life" visits to companies and students completing a worksheet summarising what they had done.

The report also said the watchdog was concerned over the way marks were awarded for engineering, warning there was too little guidance about how to deal with "incomplete or uneven performance" by pupils. As a result, entrants could receive good marks even if they "did not adequately reflect the demands of the questions", Ofqual said. A similar picture emerged in the Edexcel exam paper.

Ofqual stressed its findings were based on a limited sample of first-year papers. However, it warned the standards shown by pupils on the whole that were judged to be borderline between getting an A* and an A or between getting a C and failing were "of a lower standard" than in equivalent exams taken by other pupils.

Both Edexcel and OCR have told Ofqual that they will be conducting reviews of the qualifications.

In a separate report published yesterday on AS-level – half an A-level and usually taken by sixth-formers at the end of their first year, Ofqual also warned questions were undemanding.

A dramatic rise in the number of men opting for teaching careers in the recession is revealed today by the Training and Development Agency. The number has shot up by 49 per cent between 2008 and 2009, to 11,721. In addition, there has been a marked rise in the number of men wanting to go into the primary sector (up 52 per cent to 4,746). The figures follow years of concern that the lack of men applying has left many primary school pupils with no male role models in education.