THE University of Bolton has thrown its weight behind the most radical shake-up in education since the abolition of O-levels.

Pupils in Bolton will be among the first in the country to embark on the 14 to 19 diplomas, which aims to bridge the gap between vocational and academic qualifications.

The first diplomas will be introduced in September 2008, and form part of Government plans to keep children in education until they are 18 years old.

They will run alongside traditional GCSEs and there will be three levels, rising to level three, which is equivalent to A-levels. Bolton was picked as one of the first areas in the country to pilot the scheme.

Now Education Secretary Alan Johnson is urging universities to back the new diplomas to stop them from being regarded as "second best".

The Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Bolton, Dr Peter Marsh said:"The diploma is something we very much welcome here at the university. We think they are an essential addition to the more traditional A-level path, providing a vocational route of equal merit."

Diplomas will initially cover construction, engineering, health information technology and the media.