Education & Family

Government accused of engineering diploma U-turn

Teenagers study engineering
Image caption The government has decided to update the engineering diploma for 14- to 16-year-olds

An engineering diploma for teenagers downgraded in a shake-up of vocational qualifications is to be "reworked", the government has announced.

The engineering diploma was among 3,100 qualifications downgraded by ministers in January.

Announcing the change, Chancellor George Osborne said the updated qualifications would help Britain "lead the way in science and technology".

Labour accused the government of a "shambolic U-turn".

In January the 14-16 section of the diploma was downgraded from the equivalent of five GCSEs to being worth just one GCSE, despite having been developed by academics and industrialists to provide a robust alternative to traditional academic qualifications.

From 2014 thousands of vocational qualifications will no longer count in school league tables at all. The engineering diploma was one of just 70 "equivalents" that would still count but only on a like-for-like basis with GCSEs.

The move was in response to last year's Wolf report which said that some qualifications were worthless.

In January, members of the engineering community reacted angrily to the decision to lump the engineering diploma with weaker qualifications, voicing concern that schools would no longer consider it worth offering as the effort would outweigh the return in the league tables. They warned that Britain's economic recovery would suffer as a result of an ongoing failure to combat an ongoing shortage of skilled engineers.

The decision to update the diploma has been welcomed by the Royal Academy of Engineering, which will help to redesign the qualification. The courses are likely to start in 2014 with the new qualifications included in school performance tables from 2016.

Profr Matthew Harrison, director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, told BBC News they would "divide the diploma into four parts, each of which count for one GCSE - but as a set - with the same content as the diploma.

"We had a qualification that worked. It wasn't the qualification that was in question but the way it figured in the league tables.

"We are delighted. The significance of this is that after two years of concern about vocational qualifications in schools, this is the first time we have had a positive story about vocational education. The government has made a direct connection between vocational education and the needs of industry and economic growth."

The chancellor made the announcement on Friday at the opening of the Rolls-Royce apprenticeships academy in Derby. He said: "If Britain is to compete and thrive in the global economy, then we must lead the way in science and technology.

"These new engineering qualifications will give young people the skills that they want, and that businesses need, to be at the forefront of this race."

The Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock, said: "Today's news shows we are serious about backing engineering skills, which are vital for our economy and which set people on a path to prosperity."

However, Labour's shadow schools minister, Kevin Brennan, said: "Another day, another shambolic U-turn.

"In January, the government downgraded the engineering diploma from being worth five GCSEs to only being worth one, even though the work needed is equivalent to five subjects. Now they are saying there will be courses worth four GCSEs, but only from 2016. How many students will be put off doing engineering in that time?

"The original course was rigorous and respected by employers, having been designed with input from the Royal Academy for Engineering, JCB, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems."

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "This government has reformed Labour's absurd league table measure that saw thousands of children pushed into courses of little or no value. Now only high quality courses will count in the league tables and it is great news that new courses are being designed.

"The Royal Academy of Engineering will work with employers, professional bodies and schools to design the qualifications and they will be available for students to sit as early as 2014."

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