T levels and Diploma parallels: forewarned and forearmed?

A common theme throughout T level consultation responses concerned parallels between proposed T level and 14 to 19 Diploma introduced 10 years prior.

Given this we have shared some recollections for those new to the sector together with some thoughts on implications for T level success.

The Diploma

The Diploma was a high-profile qualification introduced in 2008 in the wake of the Tomlinson report which had separately proposed a new Baccalaureate style qualification. The key difference is that the latter was proposed as replacing A levels which was ultimately seen as a step too far politically and the Diploma was characterised by some as a watered-down alternative

Key features

Offered in 14 lines of learning

Offered hands on practical experience with classroom teaching with schools, colleges and employers all contributed to different parts of the qualification

Each Diploma had three major areas of study

  • Principal learning – focused on the main subject
  • Generic learning – common and including functional skills in English, Maths and ICT. Also a project and at least 10 days work experience
  • Additional and specialist learning – A top up that included GCSEs, AS etc

Available in three levels:

  • Foundation – Equivalent to five GCSEs grade D to G
  • Higher Diploma – Equivalent to seven GCSEs at Grades A to C
  • Advanced Diploma – equivalent to three and a half A levels

Where did it all go wrong

The Diploma did have its fans amongst employers and teachers and some universities. However as projected, take up was low and success rates even lower with around just 10k awards in its final year. An announced closure of the diploma aggregation service in 2013 was the final nail with exam boards jumping ship in 2012.

As for why some will cite suffering from and over complex design and bureaucracy. From the outset there were concerns over attainment, given hurdles to be jumped; a complicated administration system; and take up, despite positive support from some employers and teachers.

However, for other the Tomlinson proposal was ‘the solution’ that got away. Crucially it was a solution that removed the A level as an option that would have forced parents and schools to make decisions away from the default option and perhaps to create new and more varied stories about what success looks like.

Forewarned and forearmed?

For the T level points to reflect on include: A level competition, work experience requirement (The Diploma was 10 days, not three months!) and a possible wariness from those that experienced the former. Forewarned on these challenges offer the opportunity of being forearmed. Also in its favor university tuition fees and concerns over student dept that have arisen since the Diploma’s demise mean that alternative routes to careers will repay more thinking about.  Key will be creating success stories of the early pioneers providing the basis for pathways that others will be eager to follow.

Your views?

How close are the parallels? What are the main challenges that might be carried over? How might these be overcome for T levels?


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