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Employers urge government to reign in plans for Diplomas


Following extensive consultation with businesses across the country, the CBI is today urging the government to think again about its "over-ambitious" plans for a new wave of academic diplomas, and concentrate on making sure GCSEs and A Levels give young people the skills and knowledge to succeed.

Employers have consistently backed the government's sector related diplomas, eg in hospitality or engineering, as a parallel qualification to GCSEs and A levels. They were created with substantial business input and retain the strong support of employers.

However, employers are worried about the more recent proposals in the government's diploma strategy to introduce a new range of academic diplomas in humanities, languages and sciences.

CBI members fear they would not have any greater value to young people or to employers than the existing GCSEs or A levels, and would instead be an unnecessary distraction.

The CBI is fully committed to supporting the following priorities: improving school-leavers' basic skills; continuing to enhance GCSEs and A levels, and making sure the more vocational, sector-specific diplomas are a real success giving young people skills for working in their chosen career.

The CBI is also keen to work with the government to ensure the business community understands the diploma grading system properly. It is urging policy-makers to streamline the number of levels of diploma to two, rather than increase it from three to seven as is proposed. There is a real risk that seven different levels would be confusing, it says.

There are also concerns that the over-loaded education system could not cope with all the planned reforms given the lack of resources available, including too few specialist teachers in maths and science, and a poor careers advice service.

Over the next few years, schools and colleges are already being expected to manage a raft of changes. These include delivering new functional literacy and numeracy modules and new GCSE and A level curricula, together with the extra demands of keeping young people in education or training till 18.

Going ahead with these plans without tackling concerns, employers fear, could lead to a fractured two-tier education system with private schools opting for GCSEs and A levels, or even the International Baccalaureate, while state schools use diplomas.

Today, in its submission to the government on reform of the qualification system for the 14 to 19-year-olds, the employers' body is urging policy-makers to:

* Retain and improve the GCSE and A levels system, which employers understand and trust, to ensure they are of a high quality, and where appropriate made more rigorous

* Develop the potential of vocational diplomas but do not introduce academic ones, which employers do not see as adding value to GCSEs or A levels.

* Simplify the diploma structure to two levels - one for 14 to 16-year olds, and one for 16 to 18 year-olds, with grades so employers can properly gauge achievement.

* Concentrate on raising literacy and numeracy standards and increasing the numbers of pupils studying science, technology, engineering and maths.

CBI director-general Richard Lambert said:"We know from our extensive consultation with CBI member companies across the country that employers are really keen to have a positive role to play in educating our young people.

"There has been genuine enthusiasm for the sector-specific, vocational diplomas as firms recognise that they have the potential to add real value to students who are keen to learn in-depth about a particular sector and gain vital employability skills.

"Given the increasingly global challenges the UK faces all sides accept we cannot simply protect the status quo in the education system, but make sure it is evolving.
"However employers understand and value GCSEs and A levels and firmly believe these should remain a cornerstone of the education system.

"Introducing a range of science, humanities or languages diplomas runs the risk of undermining the integrity of these traditional academic subjects.

"And they could also be a distraction from the need to raise the numbers of young people studying science and maths."

Business is keen to play its part by helping with high quality work experience (75% of employers already do so), attending careers fairs (49%) and giving lectures, talks and after-school clubs (49%).


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