Bac 'marries' diplomas

But minister says Welsh exam will retain identity while absorbing new employer qualifications

new employer-led qualifications from England will be sucked into the Welsh baccalaureate to "command the support of employers", it has been announced.

But Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, has promised that the bac will remain "distinctly Welsh" at the core.

It was thought the made-in-Wales qualification would have to be reassessed as the new specialised diplomas were phased in.

But the decision to marry them - announced officially in one line to delegates at a conference addressing the skills gap - seems to confirm fears that the bac cannot go it alone in the UK jobs market.

Brian Lightman, head of St Cyres school in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, said: "The integration of the diplomas is much needed and fills a vocational gap in the qualification."

Welsh students will be able to take five new employer-led diplomas from September 2009 - one year later than England. They have been confirmed as construction, information and communications technology, health and social care, engineering and creative and media. More will follow in 2010, including manufacturing and hair and beauty. But it remains unclear how the new diplomas will fit into the present structure.

Meanwhile, developers in England are encountering problems with getting the work-related courses to schools; 61 unresolved issues have already emerged.

There are already calls over the border to put the diploma back by one year.

An Assembly spokesperson said it was important that learners in Wales had access to the new qualifications. "The flexibility of the bac would allow learners access to the employer-led part of the diploma," she said.

The bac is currently available at advanced, intermediate and foundation diploma levels in Wales. All students are required to take compulsory key skills at the core, but can then branch out and choose other options.

Schools and colleges are already reporting good offers from leading UK universities for bac applicants this week, with a pass commanding the equivalent of an A grade at A-level. But it has also been said that employers have been slow in coming up to speed with the new qualification.

Vocational skills champion Peter McGowan has said industry has yet to be convinced and fully informed about plans for work-led learning.

The staggered roll-out of the bac was announced last year after a glowing evaluation report. The minister then claimed to have stolen a march on England. But the new specialised diplomas are now being praised as "the world's most important education reforms".

Last month Sir Adrian Webb, who is leading a major review of FE in Wales, warned against the introduction of new qualifications that were too employer-led, claiming they could limit general skills needed for the workplace.

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