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Border control on the Bac

English universities still have reservations about Welsh qualification, but Scots welcome its breadth

Reservations over the Welsh Bac as an A-level in its own right still exist in some of England's top universities, TES Cymru has learnt.

Some admissions tutors say students should still study three A-levels besides the advanced bac to book a place. But in Scotland there is more enthusiasm for the qualification, with tutors saying they would welcome applicants.

From September, the bac will be rolled out to 27 more schools and colleges and be available to 18,000 students at advanced, intermediate and foundation levels.

Its core certificate comprises "life skills" such as working with others and problem-solving. Students also develop research skills through individual investigations.

But although the vocationally led qualification, in which applicants are awarded a simple pass or fail, has received rave reviews during the pilot, some universities are still not converted. Richard Emborg, director of admissions at Durham University, said: "Potentially, there's a missing A-level, which is a problem.

"We'd have to look closely at an applicant taking only two A-levels. There's value in the core, for instance, community participation. But we'd have to dig down into the core detail. A grading system would certainly help."

In 2006, evaluators from Nottingham University reporting on the first Welsh Bac pilot said students had had "a mixed response" from university admissions staff. They expected some offers would include three A-levels which, with the bac, in effect meant asking for four.

Oxford said some of its colleges would ask for four, and Cambridge expects applicants to have three A-levels alongside the bac core. "We don't have enough experience to tell if it prepares students better than A-levels," a spokeswoman said.

Bristol University, which has 10 applicants per place, says it is happy about students offering the bac and two A-levels. But admissions director Angela Milln would like to see grading. "It gives us a way of differentiating," she said.

The Assembly government has looked at grading the qualification. "A number of issues will be taken into account, including the possible impact of an A* grade for A-levels and grading 14-19 diplomas in England," a spokesman said this week.

But universities in Scotland, which has its own education system, are recognising the Welsh Bac.

Liz Lister, director of admissions and recruitment at Edinburgh University, said she looks for two A-levels for social science courses but three for engineering and science subjects. "Generally, we welcome the Bac's breadth," she said. Glasgow University also accepts the Welsh Bac, but so far no applicant has offered it. Some in Wales believe a broadened bac could be more valuable than A-levels.

"It's starting to bridge the gap between academic and vocational qualifications," said Phil Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru. "We need to think seriously about the future of A-levels - in practice they often don't match up to the rhetoric."

The Assembly government wants a quarter of 16 to 19-year-olds to obtain it by 2010. The core at advanced level counts for 120 Ucas points, equivalent to an A grade at A-level.

A higher education advisory team has been set up to promote the Welsh Bac. "The qualification has been rebranded to ensure we offer consistent messages," the Assembly government spokesman said.

Leader, page 28.

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