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Bac will lead the world, says chief

the private sector must endorse the Welsh baccalaureate, which will be one of the "best employability qualifications" in the world, according to Wales's top education civil servant.

Wales could also have the best education and training system if it comes up with "clever and smart" ways to close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils.

In an upbeat speech to the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) in Cardiff last week, Steve Marshall, head of the Assembly government's department for education, lifelong learning and skills, urged educationists to focus on learners.

The Australian, who moved to Wales this January, also told IWA members: "I want the private sector to get behind the Welsh bac.

"It's going to be one of the best employability qualifications in the world. My three children will be doing it."

He contrasted Wales with England, where the Westminster Labour government "didn't bite the bullet on 14-19". It rejected the 2004 Tomlinson review, which recommending abolishing A-levels and GCSEs in favour of an over-arching diploma.

Last month, the Assembly government's vocational champion called for a national advertising campaign to promote the Welsh bac and the learning pathways reforms of the 14-19 curriculum.

Peter McGowan said he had struggled to convince employers of the benefits of the 14-19 reforms, and particularly of the key skills qualifications that form a large part of them and the Welsh bac.

Mr Marshall blitzed IWA members with a set of graphs comparing the educational performance of different countries set against pupils'

socio-economic background and national spending.

He speculated that Wales's current education system is high quality but low equity. The best schools are world class, but pupils from affluent backgrounds do much better than poorer classmates.

Secondary school pupils in Wales are for the first time taking international tests this term, run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which will allow for global comparisons in future.

But Wales-only data show a clear link between poverty and achievement, he said. "The higher the percentage of free school meals a school has, the more challenging it is to achieve good skills.

"If we close that gap, we will make a better life for individuals and also communities, as Wales becomes economically richer."

He noted that countries which spent highly on education, such as the United States and Norway, did not necessarily get the best results.

"It's what we do with our funding that matters. I want the money so we can do the right things."

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