Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dodgy Diplomas

The BBC seems for reasons best kept to itself to be on a mission to get the much lauded diploma scheme back on track. I am not a fan of the idea. I think if GCSEs are getting easier it is because of the fragmentation of the exam boards and the fact that they are being run as independent financially competitive operations. Schools are able to shop around for the easiest exams which incentivises the boards to get easier and easier. What is needed is the return of a centralised independent moderation board who have the power to reject proposed courses and exams if they feel that the standard is dropping. Diplomas will do nothing to solve this problem.

Instead the plans will create other problems because they roll all of the existing GCSEs and A-levels into one qualification meaning:

1) Difficulties for those who prefer to study more slowly - such as those who dropped out of school and are catching up while working full or part time or those whose disabilities (physical, recovering from illness or surgery, dyslexia, etc) mean they can't study as fast as other students.

2) Brighter students are not able to take one or more subjects early.

3) Adult learners who study new subjects cannot incorporate the new skill into their existing diploma. Instead other qualifications will be needed to fill that gap. Hence an employer will be faced with e.g. an applicant with a diploma that includes some study of Spanish versus an applicant with a no-Spanish diploma and a seperate qualification in Spanish. Employers won't know how to compare the two, and may even have to start asking applicants to take a test as part of their application.

4) Students who fall out with an individual subject or teacher have their overall mark brought down rather than being able to show employers or universities that they have good marks across the board and that the problem has been in one area only.

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