A new qualification will allow 14- to 19-year-olds to study voca-tional courses in food and drink, including bakery, while still in school and college.

The Diploma in Manufacturing and Product Design (MPD), which is being introduced in 28 areas around England from September, will allow students to gain accredited qualifications in subjects ranging from food safety to craft bakery as an alternative to studying GCSEs or A-Levels.

These qualifications, known as Additional and Specialist Learning (ASL), will complement the study of core principles relevant to all manufacturing sectors. In bakery, options include ABC courses, such as a Level 1 Certificate in Cake Decoration, a Level 2 Certificate in Pastry and Patisserie and a Level 3 Diploma for Pastry Chefs and Patissiers.

Other relevant options include City & Guilds Awards and Certificates in Food Manufacture, Royal Society for Public Health food safety qualifications, and AQA AS and A-Levels in Food Technology. To qualify for the Diploma, students must complete at least three ASLs.

As well as college courses, students will learn through work experience placements and classes in schools led by teachers, with contributions from industry.

Derek Jones, who has led the development of the Diploma in MPD on behalf of food and drink sector skills council Improve, said: "The Diploma in MPD is a response to the long-standing complaint from industry that young people are leaving education without the practical skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the workplace. The core topics cover product design, materials science, production systems and business and management, and it also pays close attention to ’employability’ skills such as communication, numeracy and ICT."

A spokesperson for Improve called on bakery companies to get involved. "Employer involvement is crucial to the success of the Diploma. Bakery companies of all sizes are urged to join local consortia of schools and colleges to offer expert guidance and first-hand knowledge to the teaching of the Diploma."

Employers can get involved by giving talks to students, hosting site visits, and helping set project topics, as well as keeping teachers up to speed with industry trends.