Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Learners motivated by practical learning in Diplomas

Diplomas are enthusing learners but weaknesses remain, according to a report published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

Some aspects of the Diploma – especially the main subject content known as ‘principal learning’ – are working well, but the qualification as a whole is proving complex and challenging for both learners and providers. 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 (ICT) is too variable.

The report, Diplomas: the second year, reports that while Her Majesty’s Inspectors found strengths in the main subject content of Diplomas (the ‘principal learning’), the delivery of the ‘functional skills’ of English, mathematics and ICT was often weak. When taught in isolation from the vocational content of the Diploma –sometimes in a different institution - the lack of connection left learners struggling to develop and apply functional skills.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said: 'In some areas diplomas are starting to provide young people with valuable learning opportunities and work-related skills. However, 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, with only just over a third of the first cohort gaining a Diploma after two years. More also needs to be done to make the teaching of the functional skills of English, mathematics and ICT more industry-relevant, and joined up with the main subject content.'

Inspectors saw learners demonstrate real enthusiasm when given the opportunity to show their ability with industry-standard resources and apply their learning to a work context in areas such as construction, hospitality and engineering. For example, schools within one consortium used the ‘Formula 1 in schools challenge’ and a well-equipped local learning centre to support the teaching of design, manufacturing and production techniques.

In the best examples, consortia ensured a clear application of learning to commercial, industrial, professional and work-related contexts. Learners benefited from a wide range of links with employers, visiting industry premises and taking the opportunity to get involved in both voluntary and commercial activities. In one example, learners studying the creative and media Diploma gained important job skills by making promotional films for local charities. In another case, learners produced adverts, short films and promotional material for a local police force as part of the national Stop Hate campaign.

This survey focused on how well 14–19 consortia were introducing the Diplomas, evaluating the success of key components of the Diploma and the coherence of the programme as a whole. Between September 2009 and March 2010, inspectors visited classes, scrutinised learners’ work and discussed progress with learners, teachers, trainers, employers and managers in 21 of the 14–19 consortia involved in the first and second phases of the introduction of the Diplomas.

Inspectors found recruitment to the Diplomas reflected long-established, gender-stereotypical choices with little evidence of concerted work to challenge these. There were marked disparities in the numbers of males and females studying particular Diploma lines. In the consortia seen, few females were studying engineering, information technology and construction while in hair and beauty studies and society, health and development, most of the learners were females.

The take-up of Diplomas by learners with learning difficulties and those with disabilities was also low. Provision at foundation level (level 1) was limited in scope and teachers often considered level 1 functional skills tests too hard for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities who might otherwise gain a foundation level in the ‘principal learning’ component of the Diploma.

Notes for Editors

1. The report will be available on the Ofsted website

2. The Diplomas were introduced in September 2008 and combine theoretical study with practical learning. The largest component of the Diploma – the principal learning - is the specialist subject content, such as engineering, construction, business, administration and finance. Students must also complete functional skills (English, mathematics and ICT), a project, 10 days' work experience, and a unit of additional or specialised learning intended to complement or extend the specialist subject work.

The first five lines of learning introduced in September 2008 were construction and the built environment; creative and media studies; engineering; information technology (IT) and society, health and development. The following were introduced in September 2009: business, administration and finance; environmental and land-based studies; hair and beauty studies; hospitality and; manufacturing and product design. Delivering 14–19 reform: next steps set out plans to introduce a further seven lines of learning between September 2010 and September 2012.

3. The report is based on visits to 21 14–19 consortia between September 2009 and March 2010 where aspects of the Diploma provision were evaluated. The consortia varied in size from those made up of several schools and a local college of further education to others that included all the schools and colleges within a local authority area. The consortia were in a variety of urban, suburban, rural and semi-rural areas. In each consortium, teams of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and additional inspectors visited a small sample of schools and colleges and, where they were involved, work-based learning providers and local authority skills centres. In total, 42 schools, 21 colleges of further education and sixth form colleges, and three work-based learning providers were visited. Visits were also made to four local authority skills centres.

4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

5. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 5866 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359. Alternatively, please email




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