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How is the Diploma structured?

Diplomas will be available in 14 lines of learning and are made up of principal learning, generic learning and additional and specialist learning (ASL).

Principal learning is the main part of the Diploma study programme and gives the learner skills and knowledge relevant to their chosen line of learning.

Generic learning is common to all lines. It includes functional skills – English, mathematics and ICT – as well as work experience, project work and personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS).

ASL is made up of qualifications that add depth to the learner's studies in a particular subject – or offer breadth through complementary learning.

Learning by doing

Principal learning is made up of subject-based or sector-related study. At least 50 per cent has to be based in a work-related or applied learning context.

Functional skills are practical skills, which enable people to work confidently, effectively and independently. Diplomas require learners to gain functional skills at:

  • level 1 for the Foundation Diploma
  • level 2 for Higher and Advanced Diplomas.

Functional skills are part of the generic learning component of the Diplomas, but learners will have opportunities to develop and apply functional skills across the whole curriculum. Awarding bodies will provide guidance on the full range of opportunities for developing and applying functional skills.

Functional skills will form part of GCSEs in English, mathematics and ICT, Diplomas and apprenticeships. They will also be available as stand-alone qualifications.

Find out more in our Functional Skills section.


The project is a compulsory part of the Diploma programme at all three levels – but it can be taken as a standalone qualification for 14–19 learners. Part of the Diploma's generic learning component, it accounts for 60 guided learning hours at foundation and higher levels and 120 when taken as part of an advanced Diploma.

The project is designed to give learners transferable skills like research, planning, analysis and evaluation.

Learners need to carry out at least 10 days' work experience to get a Diploma. The placement doesn't have to be over a single ten-day block.

For work experience to count, the learner will need to work in the same way as an employee, and be able to demonstrate what they've learnt.

Personal, learning and thinking skills

Personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS) are a range of generic, transferable skills that make an important contribution to learning, life and work. They're common to Diplomas in all lines of learning and they run through the whole programme of study.

PLTS are made up of six groups of skills:

  • independent inquiry
  • creative thinking
  • reflective learning
  • team working
  • self-management
  • effective participation.


The qualifications that make up additional and specialist learning (ASL) enable learners to specialise and learn about areas of interest in more depth – or to broaden their experience with complementary learning.

Because progression is fundamental to each Diploma, ASL choices are specific to each Diploma line of learning and level. The catalogue of choices for each combination is available from the National Database of Accredited Qualifications.

ASL in Diplomas - video

This video shows how the Isle of Wight consortium planned its additional and specialist learning (ASL) provision. It features interviews with the 14-19 consortium partnership manager and students.

Last modified: 07 Apr 2011