Post Qualification Routes in the United Kingdom Essay

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Post Qualification Routes

In the United Kingdom (U.K.) there are different routes to graduating secondary school and university entrance requirements. The two routes discuses in this paper are the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) and the diploma program. The GCSE are the first formal qualifications that many people obtain in England, and they are known and respected internationally (Suto & Greatorex, 2008). The diploma program is fairly new in the UK and it is equivalent to up to seven GCSE subject passes, depending on the type of diploma (Warwick, 2007). The diploma program has been introduced in 2005 as an alternative for students who do not want to take the GCSE, it does not replace the GCSE. The diploma program was developed to give student education choices, a more practical approach to learning. In this paper I will discuss the GCSE and diploma program, how they work, some criticisms and their comparisons.


In order for students to gain a general diploma and graduate, they must write the GCSE and pass at least five subject areas, including English and Math, with a grade of C- or better. The GCSE is used to prepare the student for University entrance. The Board of Education in the U.K. offers a wide range of courses that the student can study for university entrance ("GCSE, 2010). The average student in the U.K. takes six or seven subjects of GCSE, to ensure they pass five subjects with a C- or better. These subject areas are more traditional in their base. This exam is a high stake exam, the results is very important to candidates, their families, teachers, education institution and potential employers (Chamberlain, 2008). Some of the specific courses offered in GCSE are:


Business Studies



English as a Second Language

English Literature

Fine Arts




Modern Foreign Languages



Religious Studies


The GCSE is a traditional method of receiving qualifications in the UK and has been around for a long time. Students spend an average of two years preparing for this exam, often with additional tutoring or help. This is a rigorous process that prepares the students for continued education as well as the workforce. This is an exam-based program that is well-known and respected internationally.

Diploma Program

The Diploma is designed for adolescents' ages 14 through 19 years to achieve a more practical route of education. This method of education is geared to prepare these students for what employers are looking for in their candidates. This program is not available in all of the schools and colleges; it is only offered in selected schools and colleges. This program was developed to attract students, to give different options to students, and to captivate the students who are thinking of leaving school. The diploma program would captivate the students who are more practical, and keep them in school longer.

The diploma program was designed as a partnership with potential employers and universities. This program prepares the students for work and for future studies at the university if that is desired. The program is a combination of practical experiences, day-to-day usage of the skills and a traditional classroom setting. Through the classroom setting the students learn the necessary English, Communication, and Grammar skills needed to function in the work environment. The students in the diploma program continues to attend school as usual, however they enter into the diploma program between the ages of 14-19 years, which allows them to get the practical knowledge in either their own school, a college or in a work environment. This is similar to the Internship program that American schools have adopted. Students in American schools take their classes in high school or in college, while gaining practical skills in the work environment. The students see how to use the information they have learned and how the work environment functions on a daily basis ("Education and Learning," 2010). The Diploma program covers fourteen subject areas

Business Administration and Finance

Construction and the Built Environment

Creative and Media


Environmental and Land-based Studies

Hair and Beauty Studies


Information Technology

Manufacturing and Production Design

Public Services

Retail Business

Society, Health and Development

Sport and Active Leisure

Travel and Tourism

Students in the Diploma program must complete a project in their specialty prior to graduation. The project is designed to test the knowledge of the students. The students must show that they are able to apply the knowledge learned in a practical manner. As a part of their graduation requirement, they must also work a minimum of ten days with an employer in the related area of study. The diploma program is not exam based, it is more practical. This is an inclusive learning initiative from the education department. This allows the UK to explore other learning techniques and strategies. The diploma program will provide opportunities the students own skills and other generic skills.

The diploma program is new, not only because of the new way of learning, but there are new subject areas, and new programs. The way the classes are taught, the training that the teachers receive and the curriculum development are all new (Boston, 2007). It is a vocation type of curriculum immersed in a regular setting. This type of education has been used in other countries, however have never been used in the U.K. It will appeal to those students who are unable to achieve the five GCSE subject needed with a C- grade or better. It would allow those students to obtain qualifications through a different medium.

Comparison of Programs

The diploma program was developed to work along with the GCSE program it is not meant to replace the GCSE exams (Crossley, 2008). The diploma program is designed to offer an alternative to students, students who may not otherwise gain any qualifications. There are some students who cannot take tests well or who cannot learn the material in a traditional learning environment, which involves reading the material and test taking. The diploma program is a vocational program which allows the students to utilize the information learned in a practical setting. The students are tested through their ability to apply their knowledge and solve real working situations. The learning style of the diploma program will attract students who are more practical and provide an option for students who need alternatives. The GCSE are designed for students who can study the material and be tested for knowledge. This is a very prestigious form of qualification in the UK.


There are some critics that argue the government has developed to the diploma program to help alleviate cost of sending so many students to universities. The government subsidizes students while getting their degree. The GCSE and A-levels prepares the students for universities as well as the workforce, however the diploma program trains students to go into the workforce. If fewer students went to college it would cost the government less ("Government launches latest consultation on 14-19 reforms," 2008).

Many people also don't see the diploma program as equal to the GCSE program. Some critics argue they should be viewed as equals, however others argue since it does not have rigorous examination process it is not equal to GCSE. Mr. Knight the school minister of the UK said "that doctors and architects were esteemed for their practical knowledge as well as their learning, and it was time to extend that respect to the many other highly skilled professions that our economy needs just as much" ("Vocational and academic must be equals, says Jim Knight," 2007). Mr. Knight is promoting inclusive learning, which is why the diploma program was developed. Inclusive learning is an education system that is opened to different learning opportunities and techniques. Sees the benefits of different methods of learning, and practical approaches.


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