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Students to dump GCSEs for construction diploma

More than 7,000 students are preparing to dump GCSEs and A levels this Autumn to study new diplomas in construction and engineering.

The diplomas, introduced in five subject areas from September, are the government's latest initiative to provide a more vocationally- based education.

The introduction of diplomas in construction and engineering is hoped to dramatically boost the numbers of students entering the construction industry and choosing to study engineering at university.

There were fears the initiative was falling flat after the government revealed that just half the number of students expected have signed up and a row erupted over the poor quality of maths components (NCE 18 April).

Unofficial government predictions had put the number for the 2008 intake across all subjects as high as 150,000, but reduced this to 40,000 in estimates last year.

As it stands, just 20,000 students will be taking the new diplomas in September. But industry bodies are buoyed by the fact that of these 3,054 will take the diploma in construction, and a further 4,232 the diploma in engineering.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association training director Joe Johnson said the figures for the construction diploma were good for the industry.

"This means that industry must provide some 30,540 work experience days on-site," said Johnson. "I think the numbers will allow the industry to ease into the diploma. With 3,000 students we will not be over-stretched. We can plan for the future. We did not want the diplomas to be poorly-managed. This number will allow us to keep the quality high."

ICE membership director David Lloyd-Roach agreed: "While these figures show that more can be done to boost understanding and support for the new diploma, they will also give those consortia chosen to deliver the qualification in its first enrolment the chance to pilot these new qualifications on a manageable scale."

Royal Academy of Engineering education programme director Matthew Harrison was also satisfied with the initial numbers, but added that a great deal of work had gone into boosting the maths content of the engineering diploma.

"At the moment the engineering diploma includes 60 hours of fundamental maths, suitable for a technician's needs, with algebra, integration, etc. For many, this is all they want.

"For those who want to take their studies further, the Royal Academy and others have produced a stand-alone maths content module at level three (16- 18 year-olds). This course will prepare students for university.

"We have a growing list of universities who are happy with this." Harrison said the additional maths module compares favourably with portions of traditional A-level maths and further maths courses, but the diploma will have specific engineering applications, and would be difficult.

An Engineering and Technology Board spokesman said the new diplomas would "break down the artificial academic/vocational divide". Education minister Ed Balls said: "It's vital that we get this right and put quality first."


Diplomas will be for 14-18 year-olds beginning in September in five subject areas:
Information Technology
Health and Development
Creative and Media

Compulsory elements for all diplomas include:

Functional skills in English, maths and ICT, a minimum of 10 days work experience, a student project which could simulate real work situations, teamwork and self management skills and a project.


Specific engineering diploma elements:

- The Engineered World looks at the impact of engineering in the modern world.
- Discovering Engineering Technology introduces basic engineering principles.
- Engineering the Future looks at what makes innovations succeed, how new materials contribute to design and how to develop and launch new ideas.

Specific construction diploma elements:

- Design the Built Environment explores factors that influence design and construction, and its impact on society.
- Create the Built Environment looks at different professional roles in construction.
- Value and Use of the Built Environment analyses maintenance and management of built structures.

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