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Specialist Diploma

Volume 462: debated on Thursday 28 June 2007

9. How many secondary schools he expects to participate in the delivery of the 14-19 specialist diploma; and if he will make a statement. (146027)

Eventually all schools and colleges will offer an entitlement to the diplomas. We will start in September 2008 on a small scale. On 28 March, we announced the first 145 consortiums across the 97 local authorities that have been given approval to offer one or more of the first five 14-19 diplomas from September 2008. Within those consortiums, 800 secondary schools have said that they will be either feeder institutions to other consortium partners or offer diplomas themselves.

In a recent YouGov poll, 65 per cent. of secondary schoolteachers said that they believe that the new diplomas will simply be training programmes leading to low-paid jobs for non-academic students. Will the Minister dispel that view, and does he agree that the prime objective of diplomas must be to bring about a parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications?

My hon. Friend is right that that myth is completely erroneous. I agree with the Edge Foundation, which conducted the survey. It said that

“diplomas should be highly attractive to students of all aptitudes and abilities, including the most able. They should offer a genuine alternative to existing GCSEs and A levels.”

We are investing a lot of money in the new diplomas to allow young people to choose a vocational route that will take them through either to higher education—for example, an engineering degree—or to work. The diplomas will attract talented young people from across the system.

The Edge Foundation also said that

“The current time-scales are unrealistic—some would say dishonest”.

The Education and Skills Committee has considered the matter in detail. It said that

“the development work has sometimes been uncomfortably compressed”,

and it doubted whether those in charge have a clear sense of the diploma’s purpose.

The Minister must know that the doubts referred to by the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) are widespread. The House expects him today to give an absolute assurance on the consistency, rigour and capacity of schools to deliver the diplomas—or does he still share the Secretary of State’s chilling view that the diplomas may go horribly wrong?

The hon. Gentleman has moved from slagging off the apprenticeship system to running down the diploma system. He must learn that he is not doing himself or his party any favours by running down the education system and the young people within it. We have implemented a gateway of quality: 38,000 students will start those diplomas, and an extra £50 million will go into work force development. Those young people will study towards high-quality diplomas involving a combination of practical and academic learning, which will be the envy of countries across the world.