'An A-level with nonsense added on'

But educationalists hit back at council leader's verdict on Welsh Bac

Darren Evans

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Educationalists have hit back after a former council chief this week described the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification (WBQ) as "nonsense".

Jeff Jones, former leader of Bridgend council, said in a newspaper article that the Bac was "really an A-level with a load of nonsense added on" and claimed he would not touch it "with a bargepole" if he was a student.

Although Mr Jones is known for being outspoken, his comments came as a surprise to many as he was instrumental in setting up the skills-led qualification as chairman of the WJEC exam board.

David Reynolds, professor of educational effectiveness at Southampton University, told TES Cymru that Mr Jones's opinions had "no credibility."

"I really don't understand these criticisms," he said. "The Bac is very popular, and the fact it is growing so rapidly proves that."

In his comments Mr Jones criticised some of the Bac's core themes, such as the Wales, Europe and the World module, as "meaningless Mickey Mouse additions".

But Professor Reynolds, an adviser to the Welsh Government, said: "If you speak to teachers and students you'll find that this is the thing they are most enthusiastic about. Where else would you get that sort of discussion about Wales and its place in the world?"

Brian Lightman, now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, piloted the Bac when he was head of St Cyres School in Penarth. The ASCL is currently working with the Better Baccalaureate Coalition to develop a similar qualification in England.

"It's extraordinary that Jeff Jones should choose to criticise the Bac at a time when many leading educationalists in England are looking to Wales as an example of best practice," Mr Lightman said.

Launched as a pilot in 2003, the Bac was designed to provide students with a broad and balanced range of experiences and promote parity of esteem between vocational and academic choices.

Last year 81 per cent of those who completed the course at A-level were awarded the advanced diploma - equivalent to an A-level A grade.

From September, the qualification is to be rolled out to a further 53 schools, FE colleges and training providers, making it available to 70,000 students.

Mr Jones's criticisms followed claims that some universities were not accepting the Bac as equivalent to an A grade at A-level.

But the WJEC said the Bac is a "highly respected qualification", which is accepted at all universities in Wales and a growing number in England, including Oxbridge.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "The Welsh Baccalaureate has been largely welcomed by learners, parents and universities alike across the UK. We're sure Mr Jones's former colleagues at the WJEC will be shocked and embarrassed by these comments."

Original headline: `An A-level with a load of nonsense added on'

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Darren Evans

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