Getting through the Diploma Gateway

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Over 1,000 schools and colleges offered the Diploma last year and a further 1,330 are now offering the qualification this academic year. As consortia prepare submissions to deliver the Diploma in 2011, we look at what the ‘Diploma Gateway’ application process entails and how consortia manage their applications.

The Diploma is part of a wider package of reforms to 14-19 education, which are designed to give young people greater choice and flexibility over how and what they learn. The Diploma combines classroom learning with practical hands-on experience, developing students’ personal learning and thinking skills: vital whether they go on to work, further or higher education. It is a robust academic qualification, but differs from A levels and GCSEs in the way that its lessons are more interactive and students are set projects based on real-life scenarios. For example, a Diploma in Business, Administration and Finance student might be asked to put a business plan together by a local employer, whilst also studying subject areas like finance and research techniques.

The Diploma has been designed to bridge the gap between academic and vocational learning, and the strong academic content within the Diploma sets it apart from practical vocational qualifications.  Students can take highly vocational modules as part of their Diploma programme should they wish, through the additional specialist learning (ASL) component of the course.  A student of the Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment, for example, could take a module in plumbing. Students wanting to take a traditional vocational course could take an Apprenticeship which includes on the job training to prepare them for a particular career. The numbers of Apprenticeships have been increased and now cover more industries, making this is an accessible option for young people.

As well as providing greater choice for students, the Diploma also presents new opportunities for teachers. Ray Isaacs has been teaching the Diploma in Information Technology over the last year in Gleed Girls Technology School in Lincolnshire. He is enthusiastic about what the Diploma has meant for him as well as his students: “Teaching the Diploma is really a very exciting prospect – you’re not tied to the same subject matter, there are far more practical projects and there’s an opportunity for regular contact with employers, which brings with it a chance to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world of work.” This new style of learning provides excellent scope for teacher’s professional development.

It is not just the content of the Diploma which differs from other qualifications but also the way in which it is delivered, with schools and colleges working together in consortia to offer the courses. Pooling resources means that schools and colleges have access to a wider range of facilities, allowing them to offer more qualifications to students than they could alone. This kind of collaboration represents a new way of working and teaching for schools and colleges, so the Gateway Application Process has been developed to help ensure prospective consortia are ready to deliver Diplomas.

Consortia are required to submit information on a range of criteria, from the planned curriculum content of the Diploma lines of learning, to the logistics of how they will be delivered, such as how timetabling will work between the different schools and colleges in the consortium, and how employers are involved. This information is then used to ensure that consortia are fully prepared for the introduction of the Diploma and to assess what support the consortium is likely to need in the future.

Applications are now open for Gateway 4, which for successful consortia will mean delivery of new Diploma lines from 2011. For those familiar with previous Gateway applications, there have been some amendments made to the procedure this year, with greater emphasis placed on local authority planning. This is to make sure that there is a strategic approach in the local area which looks at the longer term objectives of 14-19 education and the delivery of the 2013 Diploma entitlement.

Julia May is the 14-19 Partnership Manager for the Chesil Education Partnership in Dorset. She managed the consortium’s successful application for Gateway 3, enabling the consortium to deliver 12 of the 14 Diploma lines available from 2010. Julia was thrilled with the results of their application. “We’re delighted that we will be able to offer so many of the Diploma lines,” she says. “There is a real shift in what education will look like, with clear pathways for young people and much more choice. Our consortium is committed to this vision and the Diploma offers something different to the existing suite of options. I come from an HR background and so I understand the importance of having a skilled workforce for the future. The Diploma’s focus on developing functional skills and personal, learning and thinking skills will be invaluable to the young people taking it.”

Julia feels that having a shared vision within the consortium helped the application process, but she is open about obstacles they faced. “There was a certain reluctance to change, particularly as schools and colleges are used to working in an autonomous and competitive way, which doesn’t naturally lend itself to the sort of collaboration needed to deliver the Diploma. Developing relationships was therefore an important part of my job as I had to keep everyone on board with the project.”

Julia made sure that the consortium had a detailed timetable in place which clearly established everyone’s roles and responsibilities. This enabled her to balance the different interests of the consortium and ensure that all aspects of the application process were being addressed: “To keep everyone on board it was really important for me to develop an open, transparent system, particularly when it came to finances, so we developed a procedure that gave financial incentives to the institutions according to their contributions. Being honest about this arrangement meant no one felt hard done by, and ensured that the necessary resources were in place to complete the application.”

Whilst coordinating schools and colleges in the consortium was challenging at times for Julia, working collectively was also beneficial, meaning there was a wider pool of resources available. She says: “It is really important to play to the strengths of the consortium, both in terms of people and resources. We have a great deal of talent in the group and it was crucial to work out who had the time and skills to lead on different aspects of the application.”

“We also considered which institutions had the best facilities to teach each subject area. For example, Weymouth College led on the application for the Diploma in Public Services because they already have a good reputation in this area of teaching. As well as looking at strengths within the consortium, I also looked at areas where the consortium needed support. The Diploma in Retail Business covered new ground for the Chesil Education Partnership so we enlisted the help of an independent learning adviser. Being honest about where we needed support meant we put aside the time and money to improve these areas from the outset.”

Once submitted, applications are scrutinised by regional panels made up of a range of Departmental officials and relevant stakeholders, including representatives of higher education institutions and employer groups. Not only do these regional panels ensure a fair and rigorous application process, they are also able to provide useful feedback, both to consortia who pass the Gateway and to those who do not. By 2013, Diplomas will be an entitlement for all students, making this feedback all the more useful as schools and colleges begin preparing for their introduction.

Following regional approval, applications will be moderated by a national panel, to maintain a consistently high standard across the country. Having successfully passed the Gateway, consortia will need to apply to an awarding body before delivering the qualification. Whilst this requires a separate application, consortia who have passed the Gateway will have already met many of the assessment criteria making them well placed to secure approval from the awarding body to deliver the Diploma. Further information about the awarding bodies and their criteria is available on QCDA’s website: www.

There is also plenty of advice and support available prior to submissions for those involved in the Gateway application process. The Department for Children, Schools and Families website (www. contains advice and information, including guidelines and examples of good practice. As well as advice on the wider application process, the site also hosts a document of core advice about each Diploma line. Alongside this written guidance, each consortium can gain access to training and development for its staff, additional online resources and the opportunity for networking and developing peer to peer support. Other bodies including the National College for School Leadership and local authorities can also provide help and guidance. For full details of the support available, visit the Diploma support website: www.

Making the most of the help available during the application process not only gives consortia a greater chance of success, but also means they will be better prepared when it comes to delivering the Diploma. Julia May agrees: “Investing time and effort in our application has been really worthwhile. We are now in a stronger position to teach the Diploma and to apply for new lines in the next Gateway application.”

Julia recognises that for many consortia, including her own, there is more work to come, but she is optimistic about the future. “As with all new qualifications it will take time to improve awareness of the Diploma, but fundamentally I don’t think you can argue with the ethos of it. With so many options for education and training now available for 14-19 year olds, I am confident that more young people will be engaged with learning, giving them the best possible start whether they want to go on to work, further education or university.”

To find out more about this year’s Gateway Process and the Diploma and wider 14-19 reforms visit:

  • www. - provides advice on delivering the Diploma and how the qualification is structured; offers bespoke training sessions; hosts online forums so teachers can share insight and best practice and includes a wealth of other personalised support tools and resources.
  • www. – a website for information on the whole 14 – 19 reform programme,  including details of the Gateway Process for local authorities and consortia, and information on the 2013 Diploma entitlement.
  • www. – contains information on the Diploma and related case studies.

The timetable for Gateway 4 is as follows:

25 November 2009  
Submissions from local authorities and Diploma line applications from consortia submitted

November 2009 to January 2010
Assessments of submissions based on a Red Amber Green (RAG) rating.

February 2010   
Regional panels decide which applications will pass through the Gateway

March 2010   
National moderation to ensure that submissions have been assessed fairly

Late March 2010 to April 2010
Announcement on success of applications

April 2010  to May 2010
Feedback to local authorities and consortia

June 2010 to July 2010
Review of Category 2 conditions

October 2010 to November 2010
Review of Category 3 conditions

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