A third of students gain diplomas after 2 years

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Ofsted has published its report on the introduction of the Diplomas for the second year of their operation. It found that there were weaknesses between principal learning and the other components of the qualification, particularly functional skills and specialist learning.

The diplomas, which combine practical and academic learning, were said to be too complicated, with many students failing to understand what was required of them.

The survey also shows that youngsters have become “bored by too much theory”. For example, in courses like hair and beauty, the teacher questioned the learners directly about the different characteristics of african, Asian and European hair-types. Through carefully planned discussion, learners explored why European hair varied from straight to curly. The popularity of hair braiding among Europeans was discussed and students identified some of the potential problems, such as having a sunburnt scalp if it was dome on holiday in a hot climate without adequate protection. What there was too little of was actually cutting people's hair, says the report.

Diplomas were introduced by the former Labour government two years ago as an alternative to GCSEs and A-levels. Schools, colleges and businesses team up to offer the qualifications with students travelling between them to attend their courses.

But the take-up has been slow with just 11,000 students starting them in the first year. And of these, only 4,000 had gained the qualification after two years.

Although some aspects of the qualification are working well, Ofsted said teaching subjects such as English and maths in isolation to the vocational content of the diploma was leaving learners struggling to develop and apply their functional skills.

"Learners are particularly enthusiastic about the opportunities Diplomas offer them to develop their vocational skills using industry standard equipment, but the teaching of related skills in English, mathematics and information and communications technology is too variable," the report said.

Many learners responded well to the opportunity for active and practical learning and managed to develop their independent learning in this area. And behaviour and engagement was good in most places visited by inspectors.

Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: "A number of problems stand in the way of more young people benefiting from the high quality learning seen on some of the visits for this survey. The complexity of the qualification is proving a real challenge to both learners and institutions."

She said more needed to be done to improve the teaching of functional skills and make it more joined up with the main subject content.

The report evaluated the success of the diplomas in their second year of operation by visiting 21 of the groups of schools, colleges and employers offering the qualifications.

The first five diplomas, in information technology, health, construction, media and engineering were introduced in 2008, and schools began offering a further five, in business, environmental studies, hair and beauty, hospitality and manufacturing last year.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, welcomed the report and said: “There are many positive indications in the report that the new diploma programme has made a real difference to the lives of young people and it is clear that they are valued by employers.

“Ofsted has highlighted the need for schools, colleges and employers to work together. This is where the qualification has been most successful.

“The Coalition Government should take note that to be effective vocational qualifications, like many other aspects of education, need partnership working between schools and colleges rather than being pitched to compete against each other in a pseudo-marketplace."

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