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Specialised diplomas under fire

The Department for Education and Skills is making 10,000 building services engineering diploma places available to young people throughout the UK. From September 2008, 6,000 students will be able to study for a new diploma in engineering, while a further 4,000 students will be able to study for one in construction and the built environment. The specialist diplomas have been developed to meet industry requirements and offer students English, Maths IT, design and communication skills. They also provide practical experience. Students will learn about health and safety practices and sustainability issues. Students can study for the new diplomas alongside their GCSEs or A-levels, or instead of them. Keith Marshall, SummitSkills, chief executive, said: “The diplomas are a key development for the sector which will improve understanding of the sector and the quality of people recruited into the sector.” However, specialist diplomas have attracted criticism from education experts who argue that - as a separate qualification - their status is not on par with traditional ones, and will be viewed by employers as such. Even Alan Johnson, the education and skills secretary, admitted recently that they could go “horribly wrong”.