Norfolk heads predict death of diplomas

A qualification for teenagers that was hailed as an answer to Norfolk's historic lack of ambition is set to 'wither and die', headteachers warned last night.

The 14-19 diploma was meant to bridge the divide between academic and vocational education and boost skills in the region when it was launched three years ago.

Norfolk was one of the try-out areas for the nationwide courses, which mixed vocational learning with a clutch of 'core skills', including maths and English.

But schools and colleges in the county are dropping the qualification because of a lack of interest from teenagers and falling financial support from the government.

And many heads fear the diplomas are on the brink of being consigned to history - leaving thousands of young people saddled with qualifications of uncertain value.


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Much of the doubt centres on the long-awaited review of 14-19 vocational education, which was expected to be delivered months ago by Prof Alison Wolf.

Its publication has now been delayed until this spring, and schools and colleges are reluctant to commit their students to courses that may not get government support.

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There are also fears that the current government will sweep aside the diplomas because they were introduced by its Labour predecessor.

The diplomas are delivered by groups of schools and colleges - called consortia.

Open Opportunity consortium, which comprises City College Norwich, City of Norwich School, City Academy Norwich, The Hewett School, Notre Dame High and Framingham Earl High, has chosen to not offer diplomas to next year's 14- and 15-year-olds. Instead, the group has opted for BTecs.

A spokesman for the consortium said it was 'as a result of funding changes made by the government and the lack of information about how diploma courses are to be altered'.

Rob Anthony, associate headteacher at The Hewett, said: 'We were concerned that the government has already reduced the available funding for the diploma courses and they are also reviewing how the course is delivered.

'Unfortunately they have not told us yet what changes we need to make for September and this does not give us enough time to be able to adjust the course.'

Brian Conway, headteacher at Notre Dame High, said: 'I taught on the diploma course last year. They are excellent courses and we will still count them for their full value. But there's political uncertainty.

'It's not appropriate to offer courses that we might later have to pull. Maybe they have been tainted by their political link to the previous government, which is a shame.'

The East Coast consortium - Cliff Park High at Gorleston, Great Yarmouth High, Lynn Grove High at Gorleston, Caister High, Ormiston Venture Academy Gorleston, Acle High and Flegg High at Martham - is unlikely to continue to offer diplomas from September.

Consortium director Flavio Vettese said: 'It is currently looking unlikely the diploma will carry on. There have been a huge amount of changes at national level and all schools are looking really closely at what they are providing.

'We have run the diploma for a second year and it has been successful, but it is quite a commitment and the funding the government is putting towards it is definitely cut.'

Ian Clayton, headteacher of Thorpe St Andrew School, near Norwich, said: 'I think diplomas are just withering and dying. They will go, and there will be a move back to BTec-type courses.

'We've been running five different diplomas, but the youngsters are just not interested. We offered a sports and active leisure diploma this year and we had no take up. It's just not proving popular.'

Caroline Brooker, headteacher at North Walsham High, said: 'We are part of the North East Norfolk consortium. We offer a creative and media diploma and the children are enjoying it very much.

'But the government is putting us in a very difficult position. I don't want to be making promises to children. It's a horrible position to put young people in. The last thing I'm going to do is put children through something that will not be recognised.'

City College Norwich will only be offering diplomas beyond the age of 16 because of a lack of demand from schools.

At Reepham High School, which will continue to offer a creative and media diploma, principal Chris Hassell highlighted the funding issue as one of the main problems.

He said: 'The previous government was so keen on diplomas it was offering premiums of �1,000 per student. I am not surprised that now the premium has been stopped, many institutions will consider moving back to more vocational qualifications which involve more 'doing'.'

Melvyn Roffe, principal of Wymondham College, which offers a Manufacturing Product Design diploma, said he still planned to offer the course next year and could run on just 12 students a year.

But he said: 'I think they are very worthwhile and I was an enthusiastic supporter of them. However, they are not going to be sustainable in the long-term.'

? What do you think? Are you affected by the changes? Call Steve Downes on 01263 513920, email steve.downes@archant.co.uk or follow @stevedownes1973 on Twitter. For Steve's education blog, visit www.edp24.co.uk/steve-downes.

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