Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 24 May 2007

My son says he intends to study computer games and advertising in the sixth form. What’s he talking about?

Hillary's Advice

It sounds as if he’s heard about the new vocational diplomas that are supposed to be launched next year. One of them is to be a creative and media diploma, which will cover these kinds of subjects. The other four to be launched at the same time are information technology, engineering, health and social care, and construction and the built environment. Later on there will be more -- manufacturing, hair and beauty, public services, and sport and leisure, to name a few.
These diplomas will be offered at three levels, from basic GCSE level up to the equivalent of two A levels, and the idea is that students should be able to mix and match them with conventional subjects.
But your son may be in for a disappointment, because things are not looking good for these qualifications. No-one has yet worked out how students are to be shipped around between their various colleges, schools and work placements. Neither do they know who will be teaching the courses. Armies of vocational tutors are just not available at the moment.
Other problems are emerging, too, like the universities turning their noses up at the proposed engineering diploma, saying it does not contain enough maths. And even the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, has admitted it could all go horribly wrong.
Students like your son are bound to be attracted to new courses that offer them the chance to draw cartoons and make television dramas, but they need to be aware that, at this stage, they are bound to be guinea pigs, with no-one able to give them any guarantees about how their choices will turn out.