Room for improvement

Posted on 9 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

Are the new engineering diplomas, designed to encourage careers in industry, fit for purpose? Ofqual says there is room for improvement.

Exams watchdog Ofqual has launched criticism at the new diploma level qualifications (launched in 2008) which some ministers have said are set to replace A levels. According to Ofqual the diploma qualifications, including the engineering diploma which is endorsed by the Institute for Mechanical Engineering (IMechE), are not challenging enough for more capable students and limit their ability to display knowledge and talent.

The diplomas aim to mix vocational with more traditional learning formats in order to instil pragmatic knowledge in students. It has been hoped that they would help to level the playing field between so called academic and vocational subjects.

Ofqual’s review of the diploma qualifications is part of an ongoing monitoring process aimed at safeguarding education standards.

In response to Ofqual’s report Ann Watson, MD of major industry awarding body EAL, says “The welfare of students undertaking a qualification is paramount. This makes Ofqual’s feedback welcome at this early stage in the life of the diplomas. It will allow the qualifications to be tailored to suit a broad range of candidates of all abilities.”

However, Watson warned against letting the report be perceived as negative press which might undermine the validity of the diploma in the eyes of the coming September intake. “It is important, to recognise that this qualification is still in its infancy. When Diplomas were introduced, no one knew the quantity and calibre of candidates that it would attract. Making them more challenging initially may have come at the expense of the less academic candidates.

Following this report we may now see students being wary of undertaking the qualifications out of fear that they will not be sufficiently challenged, that the standards will be increased beyond their ability to cope or alternatively out of a belief that these qualifications will not be seen as valuable by employers and universities… review of qualifications is welcome but needs to be conducted in a way which is constructive and with a beneficial outcome in mind. ”

This does indeed seem the intention as Kathleen Tattersall, Head of Ofqual says “We will continue our monitoring of these new qualifications and will continue to work with awarding organisations and other stakeholders to ensure that they are fit for purpose and valued by learners, teachers, parents and employers.”

Collaboration will be key in ensuring that all qualifications keep evolving to meet the changing needs of employers and students. In the meantime we must be careful not to indulge in doom and gloom rhetoric – such tendencies do nothing for progress or the security of future industry in the UK.