Knowledge is power

July 3, 2008

The Confederation of British Industry press release embargoed until 23 June ("The week in higher education", 26 June) came as a surprise to many of us since director-general Richard Lambert was present and welcomed the announcement when Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, revealed the introduction of the three diplomas in languages, humanities and science. They are not separate academic diplomas, nor are the other 14 diplomas vocational ones. Engineering and construction are as academic as law or medicine and all the diplomas require sophisticated skills in applied learning.

Students are not expected to choose between GCSE/A levels and the diplomas but can do a mixture. Diplomas taken by 16 to 18-year-olds are equivalent to 3.5 A levels, while those taken by 14 to 16-year-olds are the equivalent of seven GCSEs. Students will also do other subjects in the other half of their timetables since a diploma takes up only half the week.

What is different about the diplomas is the teaching methods, which will involve employers working with teachers in various settings including universities. Applied learning cannot be done just in a classroom or a school.

The division between vocational and academic education is false and it is the main reason why this country has an educational system that is not suited for the 21st century. The number of unskilled jobs that will exist in the future will be very few and we can remain prosperous only if we educate all our young people to a high level of skills and knowledge.

That is what the diplomas are designed to do and the CBI really does need to fully understand how they will work before issuing press releases that indicate it does not.

Graham Lane, Chair, Engineering Diploma Development Partnership, London WC1.

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