Bac? Never heard of it

24th November 2006 at 00:00
TES survey finds Welsh firms are mostly in the dark about the flagship skills-based qualification

many welsh companies have not even heard of the Welsh baccalaureate, a snapshot survey by TES Cymru reveals. But there is hope for the diploma's future after some of the UK's biggest companies said they were prepared to accept it.

We decided to test 30 companies on their knowledge of the new qualification, due to be rolled out in Wales from September 2007. But the results reveal the extent of confusion and uncertainty among businesses over the bac, especially on home soil.

One major Welsh employer, who declined to be named, thought the Assembly government's flagship skills-based qualification was a degree. Last week Steve Marshall, Wales's foremost education official, predicted that the bac would become one of the best employability qualifications in the world.

But even Peter McGowan, Wales's vocational skills champion, has said he is struggling to get the message across to Welsh businesses (TES Cymru, October 20).

Our results show the most bac-savvy firm was Airbus UK, which said the core language element is its biggest asset for them.

Other large multi-nationals, such as MS, the Arcadia retail group and Admiral, all said they would be prepared to consider the Welsh bac with two A-levels as an equivalent to three A-levels. But Flintshire-based Iceland Foods said it had never heard of the qualification and asked TES Cymru to send more information.

Pharmaceutical giant Glaxosmithkline, which employs some of the most highly-skilled science graduates in the country, said it did not know enough about the Welsh bac to comment.

But it was small enterprises which appeared to be most in the dark. In a random selection of accountants, web firms and stockbrokers, one manager in North Wales asked if the Welsh bac was the same as the International Baccalaureate and said he had no idea what it involved.

Many were worried that some UK universities were not yet accepting it. The bac has been piloted since 2003, first for post-16s at advanced level and more recently for 14-year-olds at foundation level.

Students study conventional vocational and academic subjects, such as A-levels and NVQs, alongside a core programme including key skills, an individual research project, community service, a language module, and study of Wales, Europe and the world.

Some companies taking on apprentices were not aware that the foundation bac, currently being piloted for 14 to 19-year-olds, provided young people with ICT and problem-solving skills.

Emma Watkins, head of policy at the Confederation of Business and Industry in Wales, said: "Only a small percentage of companies have heard of the bac and even fewer know what it means."

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