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Education: Baccalaureates head for Wales; EXAMINATIONS: Fresh approach to post-16 education.

Byline: JENNY REES

AS teachers and pupils breathe a sigh of relief that another year of exams is over, preparations for a new breed of exams will soon start in earnest.

The Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification - known as the Welsh Bac - will be an option for students in September 2003, after they finish their GCSEs.

Based on the International Baccalaureate, the qualification will go a long way to creating a unique system of education in Wales, taking a different path to that planned for teenagers in England.

Indeed, only this week the Conservative shadow education secretary indicated that the party was keen to look more closely at the merits of the International Baccalaureate in favour of A-levels which they said were no longer the ``gold standard''.

With so much criticism of the current system, on paper the Welsh Bac seems to go some way to addressing the problem.

The first schools to take part in the scheme were announced in April, but now that this year's GCSEs and A-levels are behind them, teachers will spend the next year finalising the programme of study.

Over the next six years the pilot scheme will be put into place, with the WJEC, Fforwm and the University of Bath taking on the contract.

The qualification is made up of the core, key skills and optional studies, drawn from existing qualifications such as GCSEs, GCE, AS/A-levels, VGCSEs, AVCEs and NVQs - quite the alphabet soup!

In more simple terms students will pick up academic or vocational qualifications as well as focussing on the ``key skills'' that the business world claims they are lacking today.

The aim is to produce students who have a much broader range of skills, narrowed down from GCSEs without eliminating skills they will need throughout life.

So the core will be based on learning about Wales, Europe and the World; PSE lessons (personal and social education) will have an additional element of community participation; ICT will run through all areas, and key skills will be a major part of the core, as well as the optional studies.

Employers will also breathe easy with the introduction of work-related education and entrepreneurship, as well as the customary work experience, careers education and guidance. In learning more about Europe, students will also be encouraged to take up language modules, moving away from the practice in England to allow stu-dents to drop languages at 14. In recent years we have developed a tradition of criticising the current education system for fail-ing students when it comes to the essential key skills. With calls that pupils are over examined and are taught only to pass exams and nothing more, a prac-tical course will be welcomed by many.

Lessons regarding Wales and the world will be less about geography and more about current affairs. And on a more local scale, by including community participation students will also be able to develop a greater understanding of their own immediate environment.

It is easy for students to become immersed in their own study guides and forget the world around them, so these elements will have great importance - particularly in developing common sense.

Ultimately of course the Welsh Bac will be aiming to get more students in full-time education and training and completing their studies by offering more of a tailored course with full tutorial support.

Schools will run the Bac alongside existing qualifications, so pupils should not lose out in any way, and the `options' side of the Bac will actually be made up of existing courses like GNVQs and A-levels.

This will be structured so that students can combine these qualifications and specialise where necessary If assessments show the pilot is a success, all students in Wales will be offered the Welsh Bac from 2006.

Bac will offer plenty of options

STUDENTS at the higher end of the academic scale will take the Welsh Baccalaureate Advanced Diploma.

They will be able to choose options mainly from A-levels, AS-levels, Vocational A-levels, and NVQ level 3 units, and will complete the Welsh Baccalaureate Core Award, including some key skills units at level 3.

The Welsh Baccalaureate Intermediate Diploma will provide a combination of mainly level 2 qualifications such as GCSE A*-C, GCSEs in vocation-al studies, GNVQ or NVQ level 2 units. Students again will complete the Welsh Baccalaureate Core Award including some key skills units at level 2.

Students will be able to `bank' their units, or credits, so that a partial achievement will be recognised within the programme and students can gradually work their way up to completing the full Welsh Bac.

Pilot schools will link up via an IT network to enable students and teachers to share their experiences, which will be benefit small and rural sixth forms.

Pilot schools

SCHOOLS taking part in the first pilot programme: Barry Comprehensive School; Builth Wells High School; Cardinal Newman RC School; Coleg Glan Hafren; Coleg Gwent; Coleg Llandrillo; Coleg Meirion Dwyfor; Coleg Powys; Coleg Sir Gar; Deeside College; Neath Port Talbot College; Pen y Dre High School; Pontypridd College; Porth County Community School; St Albans RC High School; St Cyres School; St David's Catholic College; Swansea College; Tredegar Comprehensive School.

CAPTION(S):

PIONEERING: Whitchurch High School has started the Welsh Bac already
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Comment:Education: Baccalaureates head for Wales; EXAMINATIONS: Fresh approach to post-16 education.(News)
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Aug 30, 2002
Words:871
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