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CBI concerned over ‘confusing’ qualifications

Education leaders have defended the new diploma system in the face of fresh criticism – this time from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

In an official submission to the Government, the CBI said more needs to be done to simplify the diploma system and help employers understand the new qualifications.

It also said the Government needed to stay focused on sector-related qualifications and should not extend diplomas to the humanities, languages and sciences.

To simplify the system, the CBI said employers wanted the number of diploma levels reduced from three to two - covering 14- to 16-year-olds and 16- to 19-year-olds. It also wanted grades introduced at each level to allow employers to quickly assess the achievements of students.

Commenting on the submission, CBI policy adviser Fiona Murray said: “We remain thoroughly supportive of sector-specific diplomas which are employer-driven and we want the Government to focus on ensuring they are a success.

“We are saying that it has to be really clear what someone has achieved through these qualifications as an employer needs to know exactly what a qualification is telling them about someone.

“The integrity of the system is very important to the CBI. Our concern is that it will be very confusing. These issues have arisen from very extensive consultation with our members, but we have always been very clear that any qualifications must be understandable for employers.”

SummitSkills – the sector skills council for the building services engineering sector – has been developing the new engineering diploma and has also been closely involved with ConstructionSkills on the construction and built environment diploma.

SummitSkills chief executive Keith Marshall said: “We share their concerns on academic diplomas. We understand the logic of the diplomas we are working on, but do not know how that will transfer to academic subjects. A key element for us is work experience and if you haven’t got a work experience element, is it really a diploma?”

Mr Marshall said he did not agree with reducing the number of levels to two and emphasised that prospective employers would be able to access additional information about a student.

He concluded: “We have done enough thinking and have to get on with it. If, while using the diploma, we find there are ways of improving things lets make those changes based on practical experience,” he said.

Nick Gooderson, head of standards and qualifications at ConstructionSkills, said the three diploma levels – foundation, higher and advanced – meant the system was flexible enough to draw in students of all abilities.

He said he did not believe the grading system should be altered, but the Government should look at how to give appropriate weight to additional specialist learning undertaken alongside the diploma through GCSE and A-level courses or training.

“Their combination of essential skills, relevant experience and applied learning provides an excellent grounding for careers. This can only be a welcome development,” he added.