Diplomas ‘equal to three A-levels’

The government’s diploma qualifications moved a step closer towards credibility today as exam and university admissions chiefs said they could be equivalent to more than three A-levels.

Schools minister Jim Knight has accepted recommendations that the highest level diplomas are equivalent to 3.5 A-levels, making them suitable for pupils planning to go on to university.

There had been concerns the new diplomas would not be accepted by universities and lead to a two-tier qualification system.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) recommended today that advanced diplomas be equivalent to 3.5 A-levels. Higher diplomas will be worth seven good GCSE passes and foundation diplomas equivalent to five A*-C passes.

The University and College Admissions Service (Ucas) has concurred advanced diplomas will be worth 420 tariff points, equal to more than three A levels.

Mr Knight said: “Diplomas are the first qualification to be developed with such a high level of input from employers and universities. Today QCA and Ucas are confirming these are rigorous and challenging qualifications.

“Pupils can now be confident they will study valuable, first-class qualifications when they take a diploma, and universities and colleges can be assured of their quality.

“We have reached another important milestone in delivering the diplomas, with the opportunity to combine theoretical and practical options that brings.”

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove insisted the true test for diplomas will remain what universities and not the government think of them.

Mr Gove said: “Instead of rhetoric aimed at undermining the A-level, ministers should concentrate on delivering better vocational qualifications for the thousands of young people not currently in education, employment or training.”

Anthony McClaran, Ucas chief executive, confirmed that decisions on individual applicants will remain a matter for HE institutions.

“It is encouraging that many are beginning to signal an acceptance in principle of the diplomas,” he added.

As an incentive to schools to adopt diplomas, Mr Knight today also announced an additional £1,000 funding per pupil sitting a diploma.

This will be delivered via a combination of £45 million nationally for teaching training and £28 million to support the diplomas, which will be rolled out in 2008/9.