Leading article: The downside of diplomas

Share
Related Topics

Employers were among the earliest groups to complain that the national curriculum gave school-leavers exam-answering knowledge that did not translate into practical basics. They were particularly concerned about English and maths. Their plea seemed to have been heard when the Blair government put its weight behind diplomas.

Now, in demanding a return to the drawing board, the employers' organisation, the CBI, seems to be biting the hand that promised to feed it. Instead of developing diplomas, the CBI wants government efforts to focus on improving standards of GCSEs and A-levels.

Like so many of the education reforms introduced or proposed by the Government, diplomas have had a rocky ride. This is only partly because of the education establishment's resistance to change. It is also because diplomas have meant different things to different ministers. They appeared first as a centrepiece of the Tomlinson review, when they were a school-leaving qualification that would contain within it evidence of academic and vocational achievement. This seemed a sensible idea – which was promptly rejected.

There was subsequently a plan for diplomas in vocational subjects only, which pupils could obtain in parallel with GCSEs and A-levels. This, though, fell foul of the Government's long-standing ambition to accord vocational and non-vocational qualifications equal value. So when Ed Balls took over the department, he proposed that diplomas should be awarded in traditional academic subjects as well. Crucially, he also said that the diplomas and A-levels should exist side by side, and compete to become the qualification of the future.

It is this new twist to which the CBI takes exception. Employers, like many education traditionalists, see diplomas in disciplines such as languages and science as potentially "dumbing down" the curriculum. And while the initial idea was that diplomas would gain ground to the point where they became the qualification of choice, the reverse now seems more likely to happen. The new diplomas would become second-class qualifications, simply entrenching A-levels as the "gold standard".

The CBI's intervention leaves ministers in a quandary. Clearly, the national curriculum has been found wanting. And diplomas, which once seemed part of the solution, increasingly look like part of the problem. Yet companies, big and small, are crying out for a reliable paper qualification that testifies to the attainment of basic skills, such as command of English, functional ability in another language, proficiency in basic maths, computer literacy etc. Perhaps this is what ministers should consider if they are forced to start again.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Reeyot Alemu (L) and Eskinder Nega (R)  

Voices in Danger: Ethiopian journalists are fleeing from prosecution while others languish in prison

Anne Mortensen
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?