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Bac award like 'astrology'

New Welsh qualification will give top marks for key skills. Adi Bloom and Warwick Mansell report

Students sitting the new Welsh baccalaureate qualification will receive the equivalent of an A-level A grade merely for passing basic elements of the course.

They will get 120 university entrance points for passing key skills tests in subjects including communication and computing and presenting evidence of work experience and community service. A-levels in traditional subjects carry 120 points for an A grade.

The move, announced by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, will give ammunition to opponents of an English bac. In England it is proposed to give youngsters credit in non-academic areas such as community service.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Liverpool University, said: "I cannot see any university worth its salt attaching any significance to this."

Despite the UCAS decision, university admissions tutors are still debating whether to give the Welsh bac core equal weight to an A-grade at A-level.

An Oxford University spokeswoman said tutors would be unlikely to give pupils with the Welsh bac a conditional offer. She said: "We would think of it as the equivalent of an A in a vocational qualification. It's impressive in terms of time put in, but not necessarily good background for our courses."

The Welsh baccalaureate - being piloted in 18 schools - blends existing A-levels with a compulsory core which includes a language requirement, work experience, community service and lessons on Wales, Europe and the world.

Pupils must pass three key skills tests, choosing from six subjects: communication, application of number, information and communication technology, problem solving, improving your own learning and working with others.

One must be at level 3, or A-level equivalent, and one at level 2, equivalent to GCSE A* to C grades.

Professor Smithers added that key skills were often more appropriate for pupils in their early secondary years, and said the Welsh points move was akin to "astrology - arbitrary assessment of different activities". It made no sense to make comparisons between completely different subjects.

Craig Delonnette, who has just begun the Welsh bac course at Builth Wells comprehensive, in Powys, said: "It seems too good. You don't have to do that much extra work to get an A grade."

The qualification is straight pass or fail - the maximum 120 points or none. But Shan Davies, Builth Wells head, insists that pupils will have to earn their points. She said: "It's a rigorous qualification, demanding a lot of work. The points are very well-deserved."

Jane Davidson, Welsh Assembly minister for education and lifelong learning, hopes that, in 2006, all Welsh schools will adopt the new qualification.

She said giving the core the same currency as a top-grade A-level "flags up what we have always known: that this is a high-quality qualification".

A panel of academics from universities across Wales, chaired by Dr Geoff Hayward of Oxford University, came up with the scoring system for the new qualification.

The Government task force investigating a baccalaureate-style English diploma is unlikely to follow the Welsh model.

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