Education Quandary: 'Our daughter wants to take the new diploma in IT. Could there be problems?'

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

For those who don't know – which is probably almost everyone – diplomas are new qualifications being phased in for 16- to 19-year-olds from this September, spanning a range of specialisms, from academic subjects such as science or humanities, to vocational courses focusing on things such as engineering, or media.

Like you, I am well-disposed towards the general idea of them. I like the idea of learning for this age group being linked more closely to the world of work, and of vocational education being brought into the mainstream. But you are right to worry, unless your daughter's school is in one of the handful of local authorities that has spent the last couple of years doing the groundwork on diplomas.

The problem is that they are complicated, and are going to need the goodwill and close cooperation of schools, colleges, employers and public institutions such as libraries and hospitals to work. Students are going to need properly-planned work placements, high-quality tutors and close supervision of their timetables to make sure everything is going well.

There is also the problem that new post-16 qualifications are proliferating, some specifically designed to drive a wedge between the academic sheep and the proletariat goats. No one knows at present what the universities are going to make of them all, so your further concerns, about what your daughter will be able to do after she finishes her diploma, are also valid. Make an appointment with her tutor and talk all these things through. If you don't get satisfactory answers, dig deeper. It may be that her school isn't yet fully geared up for this new educational future.

Readers' advice

Back your daughter's plans. The fact that she wants to do this new diploma is forward-looking, and she has chosen an area where jobs will be available and her skills in short supply. Even if there are problems while she is doing it, I'm sure that the fact that she is one of the first pupils to have leapt at the chance to study in this specialised area will mark her out.

Neil Hartley, Cornwall

I only wish a diploma like this had been available when my son was at school. Being in workplaces and seeing how computers are used, as well as learning about commerce and business, would have suited him down to the ground. He chose to stay on at school, but never enjoyed studying for the sake of it, and found his whole A-level experience unrewarding.

Jennifer Laine, West Sussex

If your daughter is going to university, she should do A-levels. Many universities, especially the top ones, don't understand anything about different qualifications, and prefer to stick with what they know. Your daughter might explain till the cows come home that her diploma is worth so many A-levels, but my guess is that they will still decide to see it as a second-class qualification.

Cath Montgomery, Lincolnshire

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary, One of my staff has just told me he is in a relationship with a former pupil, which started when she was underage and at school. It has been going for three years and they now plan to live together. He is an outstanding maths teacher whom I do not want to lose. What do I do?

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