Bac grade plan to stay on hold

Any plans to grade the Welsh baccalaureate qualification are on hold, education minister Jane Hutt has told TES Cymru.

There has been a mixed response to calls for grades to replace the present pass and fail of the WBQ to distinguish brighter pupils in the same way as the A* A-level being introduced this September.

But Ms Hutt said the most important thing was to ensure the qualification's smooth roll-out. Seventy more schools and colleges will offer the bac this September, bringing the total to 100.

Introducing grades is said to be popular with parents and pupils. External evaluators from Nottingham University supported the move in a report in 2006.

But others say grading could act as a disincentive to students. A pass in the bac is presently equivalent to an A grade A-level. "The focus at the moment is on implementation - not grading," said Ms Hutt.

Pass rates in the advanced bac were slightly down on 2007, but 21 per cent more students entered. The drop-out rate also improved - 50 per cent more completed the diploma compared with 2004.

Last week, TES Cymru reported how the advanced bac was fast emerging as an alternative to the A-level as more universities see the bac as a qualification in its own right. More now offer places based on two A- levels and the bac.

But A-level is still a popular qualification and entries were also at record levels this year. Most see the bac alongide A-levels as the perfect combination. Many students also see it as a "worthwhile addition" to A- levels.

Sophie Hurcom, 18, from St Cyres School in Penarth, passed the Welsh bac and got A grades in A-level media, history and combined English literature and language. "If you pass you've got an extra A grade so it's worth it," she said.

But her classmate Roshni Hirani, who passed the bac and got straight A grades in maths, chemistry, history and IT, said the bac could be improved at the core.

Her personal experience was that "English universities did not take a lot of notice".

The Assembly government is aiming for a quarter of students in Wales to be taking the bac by 2010.

Fast-track to avoid a Spanish tragedy

Treorchy Comprehensive is typical of the national trend in modern foreign languages. At the school, 11 students took French A-level, compared with 14 last year. Three achieved A grades, reflecting the national average.

Student numbers studying Spanish dropped from 262 to 229 overall in Wales. But those awarded A grades rose to 39.7 per cent from 30.9 per cent last year - the highest for any subject apart from maths.

At Treorchy, 10 sat Spanish A-level compared with 17 in 2007, although there was just one A grade.

Headteacher Bethan Guilfoyle said lower numbers reflected a smaller year group rather than waning interest. But she added that the challenges at A- level made languages a preserve of abler students.

Recently, the school started fast-tracking younger pupils who show promise in languages, some of whom will sit GCSEs early. Meanwhile, the teaching emphasis is on hard graft.

"We encourage them to go back to the grassroots - old-fashioned ways of learning and memorising vocabulary and structure," said Joanna Wilde, head of sixth form and a languages graduate in French, Spanish and Portuguese. "There's no way round it - it's a case of sit down and head down.

"Spanish tends to be easier in terms of spelling at first - it's more phonetic - but at A-level, I think it's as difficult as French or German."

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