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2008: Can Diplomas Cure the ‘English Disease’?

Jamie Tuplin and Pete Williamson from Barking and Dagenham talked about their implementation of Diplomas and Engineering in particular, Mick Waters of QCA responded.
When Nov 12, 2008
from 05:00 PM to 08:00 PM
Where London
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Jamie Tuplin Pete Williamson

The fourth Owers Lecture took place in front of an invited audience at Oracle's city office in Moorgate, London.

As an exciting new era in qualifications began in September 2008, we asked - Can Diplomas Cure the ‘English Disease’?

Will they overcome the ‘English disease’ which sees vocational and practical learning as less worthy and improve the status, number and quality of recruits into industry generally?

What can we do to help the engineering diploma overcome our society’s failure to recognise the intellectual and creative challenge demanded by careers in industry?

The format this year included two short focused presentations by our guest speakers followed by a response from Mick Waters leaving ample time for discussion.

Jamie Tuplin of Barking and Dagenham local authority gave an oversight touching on all the diplomas programmes in his authority and explained the challenges of collaboration.

Pete Williamson of the Warren School, Barking and Dagenham, provided valuable insight into development of the engineering diploma and the challenges of teaching it.

Mick WatersMick Waters's role at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is Director of Curriculum. Their goal is "to develop a modern, world-class curriculum that will inspire and challenge all learners and prepare them for the future."

Mick believes the curriculum should be treasured and valued and that it needs to be shaped to fit with children's lives. To make the curriculum work, people in schools need to set understandings of their children alongside the learning they should meet to create learning that is irresistible.

Malcolm Moss reported on this lecture on his blog on 2nd December 2008:

"The ‘English disease’ was diagnosed by Stan Owers as “A failure to recognise the importance of manufacturing and the creative and intellectual challenge offered by careers in industry”. This year’s Owers’ lecture placed the engineering diploma under the microscope.

The event was far more than a comparison of symptoms. A wide range of experts from Government, education, technology and engineering contributed to debate after listening intently to stimulating and informative presentations by Jamie Tuplin and Pete Williamson followed by an excellent commentary in response from Mick Waters, Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Jamie Tuplin argued that diplomas offered an exciting alternative to A levels. He reported that many of those taking ‘A’ level before embarking on degree courses would have failed the functional skills requirements of the diplomas. “Existing level 3 ‘vocational’ courses have sometimes failed our young people by not supplying them with a full set of functional skills that would allow them to succeed in H.E.”

Pete Williamson added to the positive news by reporting that diplomas were attracting students who would otherwise have been lost to full time education. He lamented continuing misconceptions about diplomas, which, he insisted, are a combination of the academic rigour of GCSE’s or ‘A’ levels combined with the practical learning of a vocational qualification. Applied learning – “the best of both worlds”

Mick Waters asked, “Which English disease?” In his role he sees several, including snobbery surrounding manufacturing and engineering; stereotyping particularly women and engineering; constant references to the previous golden age of education and claims of falling standards over time.

He added that another issue afflicting diplomas was “If it’s new it must be bad”, a continual reaction to innovation in education which is the opposite of that to new engineering products. A view, thankfully, not shared by Oxford and Cambridge universities which have recently announced that they will accept the engineering diploma as an entrance qualification.

The lively discussion which followed identified a range of issues attitudes and approaches to technology, engineering and manufacturing and agreed that in Britain we continue to ‘take the rewards but disparage the means’ in respect to these areas.

English and history teachers could include study of the biographies of famous engineers which would help to highlight the impact they have had in creating the Britain of today.

The audience recognised the diplomas’ innovative features in assessment and curriculum but still felt more needed to be done. Marilyn Leask of Brunel University described engineering and problem solving activities as a ‘performance’ which should be assessed as such. Others supported this by demanding that teachers be trusted to assess the subtleties of ‘performance’ in applied learning. Increased acceptance of mixed media as evidence for assessment was also proposed, particularly, the use of interviews or vivas which would make plagiarism very difficult.

To overcome the misconceptions about engineering and technology Mick Waters suggested schools could have units in shopping centres or manufacturing and design facilities, or that these facilities could be attached to schools. Mick was also disappointed by the lack of engineering & manufacturing facilities in new facilities constructed under the Building Schools of the Future initiative."

Jamie Tuplin, Stan Owers, Mick Waters and Pete Williamson

Jamie Tuplin, Stan Owers, Mick Waters and Pete Williamson

View some video clips of the speakers.