Ministers delay 16-plus diploma

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The Government's new general diploma for 16-year-olds announced only seven months ago is to be postponed after protests from teachers and exam boards.

The diploma for those getting top grades in English, maths and science and two other GCSEs or the equivalent vocational qualifications was included in the competitiveness White Paper in May and was due to be introduced next year. Ministers hoped it wouldact as a bridge between academic and vocational qualifications.

Eric Forth, the schools minister, said that the diploma would not be introduced next year because the Government wanted to concentrate on the introduction of new vocational qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds (GNVQs).

He said: "We have concluded that it is right for the time being to focus our efforts on securing standards in the core subjects of the national curriculum, on piloting the new Part One GNVQ and on securing better careers education and guidance for young people as set out in the White Paper."

The Department for Education said no date had been set for the start of the diploma.

Mr Forth announced that 118 schools would pilot new vocational courses for 14 to 16-year-olds from next September. But the National Assosciation of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers warned last night that it might boycott the qualifications unless the workload involved in their assessment was reduced.

Last year, the union boycotted national curriculum tests over the workload.

Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, said: "Unless the assessment is sorted out there is a distinct possibility that there will be action against workload in the same way as there was over tests."

Head teachers yesterday welcomed the decision to postpone the diploma.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: "We expressed the view that it would lead to anomalies and injustice.

"For example, a student could achieve four A* grades and 1 D grade and not obtain the diploma. It was also unnecessary set alongside the existing means by which levels of achievement could be improved."

George Turnbull, of the Southern Examining Group, said: "For employers it was an extra piece of paper to look at which fudged the qualifications a student had. An employer looking at the diploma would inevitably ask what they were."

The exam boards were also concerned about how the diploma would be issued and how the qualifications would be checked.