The government has announced the expansion of the Diploma programme to offer courses in science, languages and humanities, as part of a move to help increase education options for 14-19 year olds.

Unveiling the plans, Secretary for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, said that the expanded Diploma range could become the qualification of choice over the next decade, leaving the traditional GCSE and ‘A’ Level qualifications for dust. (A review of 14-19 qualifications originally planned for next year has been postponed to 2013.)

“If Diplomas are successfully introduced and are delivering the mix that employers and universities value, they could become the qualification of choice for young people,” he explained. “But, because GCSEs and A-Levels are long-established and valued qualifications, that should not be decided by any pre-emptive government decision, but by the demands of young people, schools and colleges,” he added.

Developed to meet the needs of universities and businesses, the government hopes that Diplomas will “secure a fully rounded education for all young people at all levels of ability”, bringing together theoretical and practical study with a strong focus on English, Maths and ICT skills and opportunities to apply their learning in work-related contexts.

The new diploma in science has been “warmly welcomed” by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

Dearth of scientists

“The research-based pharmaceutical industry in the UK needs young, innovative scientists and we are optimistic that the new qualification will open up science as a career for students who may not otherwise have considered studying it,” said Philip Wright, Director of Science and Technology at the Association.

There has been growing concern over the dwindling number of scientists qualifying the UK. Earlier this month, ABPI and the Biosciences Federation released a report calling for action to boost student interest in developing skills in animal-based research as well as offer employer-focused post-graduate degrees to help the UK “maintain its leadership in medicines discovery and development”.