Bacs' community work attracts Westminster interest

19th February 2010 at 00:00
Number 10 investigates qualification that requires 15 hours' voluntary service from learners

Original paper headline: Bac students' community work success attracts interest from Westminster

A unique scheme that requires Welsh Baccalaureate students to carry out community work is being looked into by Downing Street officials keen to find out details of how it operates.

The WJEC exam board has revealed that Gordon Brown's office recently contacted its Bac team expressing an interest in the qualification's community participation element.

Under the scheme, students are expected to complete at least 15 hours of voluntary work to widen their educational experience.

As well as helping to develop their personal and social skills it aims to build stronger links between their school or college and the local community.

Ross Thomas, the WJEC's Welsh Bac development officer, told TES Cymru: "The enthusiasm and hard work of students in this part of the Bac experience is attracting widespread praise and interest.

"It is interesting to note that the community participation element has attracted interest from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office, which has been in touch by telephone. It was very interested in the idea and wanted to know what it was and how it worked."

Mr Brown has previously called for all young people to participate in voluntary community work. Last year he outlined his ambition that young people would complete at least 50 hours of community service by the age of 19 and said a new scheme of accredited voluntary work would be included in Labour's next election manifesto.

Mr Thomas said the top-level interest shows that the community participation element is one of the great successes of the made-in-Wales qualification.

A number of providers have earned plaudits for their innovative work as part of the scheme.

Students at a North Wales comprehensive school have been helping older people become "silver surfers" by teaching them basic computer and internet skills.

Sixteen students from Ysgol y Gader in Dolgellau run weekly courses at the school in conjunction with Age Concern, for a group of 10 learners aged 70 and over.

Delyth Griffiths, Welsh Bac co-ordinator at the school, said: "Students have helped the elderly visitors with beginner level ICT skills such as Word, Paint and internet use.

"Facilitating these groups has really helped the students to develop, and they have become noticeably more confident and independent as a result of the added responsibility. They have also learnt a great deal about how to bridge the age gap with patience and understanding."

Last term Monmouth Comprehensive School in South Wales held a community fair to give key stage 4 pupils a wide choice of community participation options.

Representatives of more than 25 local, national and international groups and organisations took part.

Andy Williams, the school's senior leader, said: "We didn't want community participation to be just a box-ticking exercise.

"We wanted to foster a spirit of altruism and for students to want to take part because they feel a conscience to do so. We want them to develop the right attitude toward their community and to value local organisations."

This week Leighton Andrews, education minister, encouraged more providers to make full use of the scheme. "I am impressed by the range of innovative community participation projects that our Welsh Baccalaureate centres are delivering and I hope that others continue to be inspired by their example," he said.

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