The timely article on the diplomas by Hilary Wilce was encouraging and challenging ("The diploma revolution, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 7 February). It caught well the excitement and radical ideas they represent and, at the same time, raised the right issues that need clarifying. It is important that those who support this imaginative reform need to make sure the students realise that choosing the diploma route widens their future choices and does not narrow them.
Students will only spend about half their time on a diploma and only half of that is on the specific line of learning, such as engineering. Employers have made sure the content is new, different and is applied learning, not job training. Much of it will not be delivered in a classroom. Students can do one diploma between the ages of 14 and 16 and then start a completely different one at 16. As only about 9 per cent of students are being allowed to start a diploma in 2008 it is not surprising many teachers and schools do not know much about them. That will not be the case in 2009, when up to 10 diplomas will be on offer throughout the country and Wales will also begin their involvement.
When they leave school and enter university or employment at 18, the students will have other qualifications as well, such as GCSEs and A-levels. What the diploma will give them in addition will be employment skills such as designing things, working in a team, and knowledge about industry. It is the biggest educational reform since at least 1902, when secondary education began in this country.
Those offering the diploma from September say they are surprised at the high numbers of 14- and 16-year-olds showing interest. The article is right to remind us, however, that it is essential the diplomas have good teaching to make sure they motivate pupils.
Graham Lane, Chair of the Engineering Diploma Partnership
In theory, the introduction of vocational diplomas is a good thing – less academic students will be able to show something for their years of education and schools, colleges, universities and employers will be happy.
In reality, no matter how much these schools and colleges push diplomas in media studies and other fun subjects, neither employers nor good universities will take them seriously, knowing, as they do, that qualifications have dumbed down so much in recent years as to be totally untrustworthy.
The only people who will like diplomas are schools and teachers keen to boost their place in the league tables, and the weaker former polytechnics who are desperate to attract as many students as possible to increase their funding. But then, they let anyone in already!
If only this country had emulated mainland Europe in adapting our selective school system to the modern world, instead of destroying it and replacing it with a mediocre American-style comprehensive system where the non-academic do not have decent vocational and apprenticeship opportunities. And no matter how much teachers bleat, everyone in the real world will see the diploma as a qualification for dunces. Shame.
Cecilia McKelvey, London SE10
Referring to your Leader ("An oppressive system that is failing our children", The Independent, 8 February), constant testing and objective setting does not just begin when a child starts school. The Government in their wisdom has decreed that all children attending "child care settings" outside the home, including day nurseries, play schools, before- and after-school clubs and childminders, should follow the statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. The age frame is from birth to five years old.
My daughter, who is a childminder, finds herself having to plan, deliver, and assess early-learning goals laid down in the statutory framework, which requires that by the age of five children should: write simple, regular words and make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words; read a range of familiar and common words and simple sentences; begin to form simple sentences; and use mathematical ideas and methods to solve practical problems.
Apart from the fact that not all children are competent learners from birth, surely expecting every child to be reading, writing and doing simple arithmetic by five is setting many perfectly normal children, and their carers, up for failure.
My daughter finds that the young children she cares for are often chronically tired, as they start their day at 7am, then go into a school-type setting that does not allow for an afternoon nap, and are not picked up by their working parents until around 6pm. When she picks them up in the afternoon they have had their fill of planned educational offerings, and want to sleep or relax in front of the television (as many adults would wish to do after a hard day's work). They are rarely interested in arts and crafts work, music or cooking, which my daughter tries to interest them in so that her portfolio will look good for the Ofsted inspectors. Whatever happened to unstructured play time, and allowing children to discover the world in their own way and time? This constant imposition of targets is not only unnecessary, but could be counter-productive.
Dr Robert Heys, Ripponden, West Yorks
Your editorial made excellent points that should be heeded by politicians. I fear, however, that the problem is much deeper. It is not just an obsession with control and spin, but a simplistic understanding of education. The real proof of a school's excellence or mediocrity is in the quality of life which its pupils subsequently live – and especially regarding their capacity for open minds and wide sympathies. These cannot be neatly assessed.
Dr Brenda Watson, West Malvern, Worcs
A CLEAR POINT OF VIEW
"I was punished because nobody realised I was severely dyslexic," writes Erin Pizzey (Passed/Failed, EDUCATION & CAREERS, 7 February). Yet at the same time she was reading her way through her parents' Walter Scott novels and medical dictionary; she later "browsed" through her teacher's books; she was sent to the library to study every playtime; a teacher held up an essay of hers and said she could be a writer, which she duly became. So how exactly did the severe dyslexia manifest itself? Why do so many people feel the need to jump on the dyslexia bandwagon? It makes it much harder for those who have the condition to be taken seriously.
Verity Brown, Lindfield, West Sussex
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