Less than half of students sitting the skills-led Welsh Baccalaureate qualification (WBQ) at intermediate and foundation levels this year achieved the full diploma, yesterday's GCSE and bac results reveal.
At intermediate level, being piloted at 32 schools and colleges for 14 to 16-year-olds, the number of entries rose by 136 per cent on 2007, but only 603 of the 1,309 entrants passed.
At foundation level, also being trialled at 22 schools and colleges for under-19s, only 405 of the 1,085 entrants achieved the full diploma. To pass the intermediate diploma candidates must achieve at least four A*-Cs at GCSE, or equivalent, as well as all the core bac sub-elements.
Derec Stockley, director of exams at the WJEC exam board, said the intermediate results were "encouraging" considering the qualification's demands.
It is only the second year of the foundation-level pilot, which will be rolled out nationally from September 2009, and results are expected to improve.
There was a rise in the number of students in Wales gaining grade C at GCSE, but at the expense of the top A* grade. The proportion of students achieving the best possible grade was down 0.2 per cent on last year.
Mr Stockley said teachers felt pressured to achieve the "magic grade C", with grades D-G seen as "undesirable". "Schools do as much as possible to turn their grade Ds to Cs," he said. It's difficult to do that at the top end, turning As to A*s."
Sixty-five per cent of students achieved A*-C grades compared with 63 per cent last year, with an overall pass rate of 98.4 per cent, up 0.4 per cent. The number of subject entries fell by 5,039 in Wales, a 1.6 per cent drop.
Modern foreign languages were a cause for concern. German and Spanish entries remained steady, but there was a 5 per cent drop in French entries. Despite a slight fall in entries across most subjects, there was significant growth in media studies entries - up 14 per cent - as well as drama (6 per cent) and religious studies (5 per cent).
Mr Stockley denied students were opting for easier courses, and said each qualification offered its own challenges. There was a "welcome" rise for entries in Welsh first language, up 5 per cent, and Welsh second language, up 6 per cent.
Girls continue to perform better than boys at all grades, with 21.6 per cent of girls getting top A* grades, compared with to 16.2 per cent for boys.