Leading article: New diplomas are on the wrong track

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There is still a good deal of scepticism in the profession over the Government's plans for a new specialised vocational diploma to run alongside A-levels. At the weekend, ministers published the first details of what students could be expected to study if they opt to take up any of the five diplomas that will be on offer from September 2008.

These specifications show that the diplomas - in construction and the built environment; IT; engineering; health and social care; and creative and media writing - will include a mixture of A-level-style academic content and a more vocational element. Students can elect to study them at level one, pre-GCSE standard; or level two, the equivalent of GCSE; or level three, the equivalent of A-level. The diplomas have been devised in consultation with industry to ensure they are recognised by employers when they come on to the market - for that, the Government deserves praise.

However, to many in education, they still seem unlikely to be treated with the same respect as the more traditional academic qualifications. In truth, it is unlikely that they ever will unless they are united under the same umbrella as A-levels and GCSEs.

Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector, in his inquiry into schooling for 14- to 19-year-olds, recommended scrapping the GCSE and A-level system and replacing it with an overarching diploma covering both academic and vocational qualifications. As we know, this was vetoed by Tony Blair before the 2005 general election because he was worried he would be portrayed as the Prime Minister who got rid of the "gold standard" of education. It is not too late to go back on that decision and move towards the Tomlinson diploma instead. The Government itself said it would review the decision in 2008.

Those who defend the specialised diplomas (there will eventuallybe 14 of them by 2013) do so in a language that emphasises their desire to have parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications. Indeed, they want to remove the divide so that individual qualifications can contain an element of both academic and vocational study. Surely it is a nonsense to try to achieve this through two separate qualifications running side by side, and much more sense to include them under the overarching umbrella of just one qualification?