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Bac must be matter of choice

To threaten academically bright pupils with exclusion because they would rather take a fourth A-level than take up or complete the advanced-level Welsh baccalaureate is the wrong way to ensure the qualification's success.

Fans of the bac looked on smugly when Westminster rejected Sir Mike Tomlinson's proposals to replace A-levels with a flexible diploma. But the Assembly government was right to plough on regardless with the piloting of the innovative qualification.

Principals in pilot schools and colleges say that students who take the bac experience a much more rounded education than those who do not. It allows for the development of enterprise skills directly related to industry and commerce; political awareness relating to good citizenship - essential for tolerance in our communities; community service; personal and social education; and language skills.

But bac supporters were put on the back foot last summer by figures showing a high drop-out rate among the first students who took part in the first two-year pilot of the new qualification.

A second warning that not all is yet right with the bac has been sounded by the able pupils who still prefer to take four A-levels. Has enough been done to convince them that universities across the UK value the qualification? The core has been allocated 120 points, equivalent to an A-grade A-level, by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, and a TES Cymru investigation found near universal recognition of its worth. But maybe some able students want the narrower, deeper knowlege across academic subjects that four A-levels can offer. If so, should they be denied the opportunity to choose the path they think best suited to their interests?

The principle behind Wales's radical reforms is that all young people should be offered a choice of high-quality, work-related and general learning options from age 14 by 2010. If choice means anything it should also include the right to take four A-levels instead of the bac.

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