Leading Article: Diplomas deserve greater support

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The Independent Online

The news that 550 state secondary schools have not yet signed up to join a consortium to deliver the Government's flagship new diplomas is a worrying sign for the future of the qualification. The Schools Minister Jim Knight, however, appears relaxed about it. He points out that it means the vast majority – nearly 3,000 – have signed up for the reform and that – while the first diplomas will be introduced into the classroom this September – the entire programme is not set to be completed until 2013.

We tend to agree with David Laws, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman who unearthed the figures through a Commons question, that it denotes a worrying lack of enthusiasm for the new qualification. If, as Schools Secretary Ed Balls has indicated, the diploma could replace A-levels as the main route for tomorrow's sixth-formers, you would expect every education institution in the land to be showing an interest in it. One of the problems may lie with the local authorities who have been given the task of promoting interest in the new qualification. This comes after years in which local councils have been sidelined from much decision making.

According to teachers' leaders, some of them are just not up to the job and are unaware of the amount of planning needed to implement the reform successfully and ensure the smooth running of the 14 new diplomas on offer. It is almost a year to the day that the former Education Secretary Alan Johnson warned that there was a danger the exam reform could fail. Balls deserves credit for raising esteem for the diplomas by including science and modern foreign languages in the diploma menu. He must resist any temptation to be complacent and ensure the qualification is promoted up and down the land and not – as is the case in Bracknell Forest and Southampton – left without a school that has signed up for it.

Teachers' leaders, MPs and the education world want these diplomas to work. They are the only opportunity to ensure studying for a more vocationally orientated qualification gets the esteem it deserves. If they fail, the UK may never be equipped with the skills it needs to function as a global economic player.