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What is a Diploma?

A Diploma is a new qualification in England designed to provide young people between the ages of 14-19 with the skills and knowledge needed for work. Diplomas are not being launched in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

There will be 14 Diplomas. The first five, to be launched in 2008, are:

  • Construction and the Built Environment
  • Engineering
  • Information Technology
  • Creative and Media
  • Social, Health and Development.

Another five will follow in 2009:

  • Environment and Land Based Studies
  • Manufacturing and Product Design
  • Hair and Beauty
  • Hospitality and Catering
  • Business, Administration and Finance.

The final four diplomas which will be available from September 2010 are:

  • Retail
  • Sport and Leisure
  • Travel and Tourism
  • Public Services.

All diplomas will require a student to achieve a minimum standard in English, Maths and ICT, complete an extended project and undertake a minimum of 10 days work experience. They will be run in parallel with the traditional GCSE/A-Level and Apprenticeship routes so students can make their chosen course of study broader by taking additional subjects, such as a foreign language. Some courses such as PE may be compulsory.

Two diplomas are of particular interest to Higher Educational Institutions admitting students to degrees in Materials: the Engineering Diploma, and the Manufacturing Diploma.

Why are diplomas being launched?

Diplomas are expected to increase the work-related skill levels in school leavers, offering vocational teaching of Maths, English and Communication Skills. They may also be seen to offer a more interesting and relevant qualification to less academic teenagers, and this could increase their active participation in school education up to and beyond the age of 16 years. However, the qualification is designed not to limit the future progression of students. Students can move into Further or Higher Education, Employment or an Apprenticeship.

What makes the Diploma special?

Diplomas are unique because:

  • Sector Skills Councils have led the design and development of the Diploma content and structure. This has ensured that learners acquire the skills and knowledge identified as most required by employers.
  • The qualification also consists of a more flexible style of learning combining academic study with opportunities to practice skills.

Diploma Structure

Diplomas are available at three levels.

  • Level 1 Foundation Diploma (ages 14-16) will be broadly comparable to a programme of four to five GCSEs at grade D to G.
  • Level 2 Higher Diploma (ages 14-16 or 16-18) is broadly comparable to a programme of five to six GCSEs at grade A* to C.
  • Level 3 Advanced Diploma (ages 16-18) is broadly comparable to a programme of three GCE A levels. A subset award comparable to two A Levels will also be available and known as the Progression Diploma.

Students can progress from level 1 to level 2 or from level 2 to level 3. The level 3 diploma is also designed as a stand alone qualification: students do not have to have previously completed level 1 or level 2. Progression to HE/FE is possible from level 3.

Each Diploma will generally be taken as a two-year full-time course.

Diploma content

A Diploma contains three key areas of learning:

Principal Learning – This is the key constituent qualification in each Diploma and covers the essential curriculum relating to the sector title. It covers the main things about the sector, including the issues that affect the sector today, how it works and the key skills involved. Principal learning will develop the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes relevant to a sector or sectors using realistic contexts and materials as much as possible. There are also opportunities to apply the skills in work based scenarios.

Generic Learning – Generic learning will provide the learner with the essential skills in preparation for successful employment, training and further study. It will include Maths, English and ICT.

Additional and specialist Learning – Additional/specialist learning will allow learners to specialise further or to select units, which will complement their programme. Students are able to choose from a range of learning options selected by employers as being beneficial, including existing qualifications such as A levels and BTEC units.

The extended project, in which the learner undertakes an extended piece of independent work, is a mandatory part of the Diploma and forms part of the generic learning. It requires the teaching of relevant investigation, planning, research, organisational, project management, study and presentation skills. It can also be taken as a stand-alone qualification by A level students.

Work experience

Every Diploma student must complete a minimum of ten days experience in the work place for each level of Diploma they complete. It is strongly recommended that wherever possible the work experience should be in an appropriate context, and provide a quality experience which supports Diploma Learning Outcomes and the Diploma Project. Work experience is essential preparation for employment, for development of personal, learning and thinking skills and for other generic learning.

The Diploma will be delivered mainly in schools, working in partnership with FE colleges and employers wherever a specialised learning environment is needed.

Topics covered by the Engineering Diploma (launched September 2008)

The topics within the principal learning of the Engineering Diploma have been agreed, and detailed syllabuses are available from Awarding Bodies. The topics are common to all accredited awards and are shown in Table 1 for each of the three levels.

Topics covered by the Manufacturing Diploma (to be launched September 2009)

The topics within the principal learning of the Manufacturing Diploma are still under discussion although the Diploma is expected to cover:

  • The Manufacturing World
  • Commercial Awareness
  • Environment
  • Legislation
  • Technology
  • Quality
  • Product Manufacture

Topics within the Engineering Diploma

Level 1 Diploma Level 2 Diploma Level 3 Diploma

Theme A: The Engineered World
Introducing the World of Engineering

Theme A: The Engineered World
The Engineered World

Theme A: The Engineered World
Engineering Businesses and the Environment

Theme B: Discovering Engineering Technology

Practical Engineering and Communication Skills

Using Computer Aided Engineering Routine

Maintenance Operations

Introduction to Engineering Materials

Introduction to Electronics

Theme B: Discovering Engineering Technology

Engineering Design

Engineering Applications of Computers

Producing Engineering Solutions

Constructing Electronic and Electrical Systems

Manufacturing Engineering


Theme B: Discovering Engineering Technology

Applications of Computer Aided Designing

Selection and Application of Engineering Materials

Instrumentation and Control Engineering

Maintaining Engineering Systems and Products

Production and Manufacturing

Theme C: Engineering the Future

Engineering the Future

Theme C: Engineering the Future

Innovation, Enterprise and Technological Advance

Theme C: Engineering the Future

Innovative Design and Enterprise

Theme D: Analytical Methods for Engineering

Mathematical Techniques & Applications for Engineers

Scientific Principles & Applications for Engineers

by John Wilcox, May 2008



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