Mr Balls admitted that the roll-out of the diploma was not a "big bang" launch, and that, "It's vital that we get this right and put quality first."
"This year about a quarter of schools and a half of colleges offered the Diploma and next year this will rise to nearly three quarters of secondary schools and almost nine out of ten of colleges offering the Diploma in September 2009," he said.
Of the 20,000, 3,054 will take the diploma in construction, while a further 4,232 will take the diploma in engineering.
Diplomas will by for 14-18 year-olds and will begin in September in five subject areas:
Health and Development
Creative and Media
CECA Director of Training Joe Johnson said: "Contractors want the Diplomas to succeed but students have voted on the new qualification with their feet. The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has failed to meet even its own most recent, most conservative aspiration on how many would take up Diplomas, reinforcing our message that the implementation of this policy has been poor."
Last year, a figure of 160,000 students taking the diploma in the first year was mooted by the director of 14-19 education reform, Jon Coles. Schools minister Jim Knight had told MPs that a 'ballpark' figure of 50,000 was expected.
This figure was whittled-down to just 40,000 in unofficial communications. Today's figure confims that only half the most pessimistic number have committed to the new diplomas.
Johnson said, "Parents, students and employers have not been given enough information to take the Diplomas on with confidence. Students looking for an alternative to the academic pathway would have been bemused by the down grading of the vocational element.
"Contractors have been particularly unimpressed with the change in the work experience element to 'experience of work' meaning that a holder of the C&BE Diploma might not have set foot on a construction site during the entire course.
"The Government have failed to make it clear to employers how the new Diplomas will better prepare students for the workplace or how they can get involved with the consortia delivering them in their area. Rather than raise the standard of the course content and make the Diploma pathway straight forward they have chosen to complicate matters by introducing Progression Diplomas. Employer engagement has been limited at best and nothing in today's announcement has answered the concerns that CECA has raised with ConstructionSkills and the DCFS."
Mr Balls said he wanted, "Numbers studying the Diploma to evolve naturally, driven by growing excitement about what is on offer and by careful planning of study at local level. We know that schools and colleges are enthusiastic and I'm delighted that both the independent school Wellington College and the new Wellington Academy are now planning to offer the Diploma.
"Over the next three years as new Diplomas come on-stream in subjects such as Business and Manufacturing and we introduce our three general Diplomas in Science, Humanities and Languages, I believe that Diplomas will meet the needs of young people, universities and employers and could become the qualification of choice over the next decade," he said.
According to CECA, flaws in the Construction diplomas include:
- Varying standards of delivery within consortia should one construction employer leave a consortia area having completed a contract and another joins. This will also mean a varying degree of work experience making it difficult for an employer to gauge the level of skill and understanding among Diploma holders.
- Currently, by 2013 each LEA will have to provide all Diplomas through at least one consortium within their area. In LEAs with only one consortium delivering the C&BE Diploma students may face an unrealistic or prohibitively expensive commute.
- The mathematics content of the C&BE Diploma may not be of sufficient standard to allow students to continue on to study construction degrees. The Government has created the Progression Diploma, worth 2 A levels, which allows a student to study a full A level alongside the Diploma course to overcome this, adding considerable confusion to an already unclear pathway. Progression Diplomas were not asked for by employers.
Johnson said: "It is not too late to make a success of the C&BE Diploma - Contractors want school leavers with high quality qualifications they can have confidence in. We need to know how many Students will be taking the C&BE Diploma and with which Consortia to allow sufficient employers to be recruited to facilitate work experience. If ConstructionSkills give us their best estimates now, we can get round the table and discuss how to make the new qualification work for students and employers."