EDUCATION FILE: Baccalaureate yet to convince sceptics
Pupils in Welsh schools are said to be busier than ever, with many now sitting traditional A-levels and GCSEs alongside the Welsh Baccalaureate.
NATALIE CROCKETT looks at the arguments both for and against the qualification, which is yet to win over the masses.
THE school summer holidays are fast approaching and for many pupils that means the start of an anxious wait to learn if they have made grade for a place at university or college.
The road to get to that point is long, made up of A-level and GCSE coursework and exams – and increasingly for many – the addition of the Welsh Baccalaureate.
Although it is not yet compulsory for schools to sign up, many offer it as an extra qualification, which promises to impress universities and employers, and is theUCAS equivalent of anAgrade A-level.
But there has been much speculation as to whether it is worth the paper it is written on, with some scholars claiming it is not as academic as the widely recognised International Baccalaureate.
There are those who fear it will not be recognised by universities outside Wales, meaning students could miss out on a place, while others believe people just don’t know enough about it.
One critic is south Wales east assembly member William Graham.
He said: “The trouble is it’s the old general studies with another name.
It is of merit of course, but if you are competing for a course which is likely to be oversubscribed, it has not got the same respect as other qualifying subjects. That can mean that when students apply to limited opening courses they do not get the same look-in on a place by the admission tutors who don’t know what it is, and that’s wrong. It will take a very long time before it’s accepted as being the equivalent of a gradeAat A-level. It’s not looked at in the same respect.”
Mr Graham is also unhappy that pupils in schools which run it have no choice about whether to take it.
But Denise Richards, head teacher at St Julian’s School, Newport, where it is compulsory for sxith form students and optional at GCSE, says students who take it become much more rounded individuals.
She said universities were asking her pupils for lower A-level grades because they were sitting the additional Welsh Baccalaureate qualification. She said: “A-levels are quite specific to subject but with this they do voluntary work, individual investigations, they work on communication skills. It really is an all-round qualification and that’s what universities want.”
And despite having to sit it alongside three A-levels, pupils don’t see it as an extra chore. “They are really happy with it because of the fact it’s giving them UCAS points,” she said.
“It is heavy for them, but the bright children who would do three A-levels cope well, some drop to two A-levels but they still see the relevance and see what it does to their university offers.”
The Welsh Government said all higher education institutions in Wales nowrecognise the Welsh Baccalaureate as an entry qualification for degree courses, and it was increasingly being recognised in universities across the UK.
More than three-quarters – 36,000 – of courses listed on the UCAS website in January this year accept it.
Areport by school inspectors Estyn published this week found the majority of students who study it are exposed to a wide range of topics such as social enterprise, politics and current affairs, which theymay not have studied otherwise. But it also found the standards achieved varied between each student, and school, with the biggest weakness in howit is taught and assessed.
In a minority of schools inspectors looked at, students were not challenged enough because teachers do not plan well enough, while some head teachers did not knowenough about the quality of teaching on the programme or howpupils were progressng.
Inspectors said the Welsh Government should consider reviewing the structure of the Welsh Baccalaureate and potentially introduce a grading system, which is something it is already looking to roll out in September 2013. What do you think?
Aiming to broaden curriculum
THE Welsh Baccalaureate is a qualification for 14 to 19-year-old students in Wales.
It is completed alongside traditional qualifications such as A-levels, NVQs and GCSEs and claims to provide a broader, more balanced curriculum for young people.
There are no exams and the emphasis is on learning through doing with the completion of a diary.
Pupils who achieve the advanced diploma receive 120 UCAS points, which is the same as an A-grade Alevel.
To achieve the Welsh Baccalaureate learners must complete a compulsory “core” as well as options of a minimum of two A-levels or equivalent. The core has five components, including studies on key skills, Wales, Europe and the world, work related education, personal and social education and the individual investigation. When it was introduced as a pilot project in 2003, it was offered in 18 schools and colleges.
This year 65,000 students are taking it in more than 230 centres, with more than 29,000 of those studying it at advanced level.