In September last year, our Year 12 students found themselves in the unique position - with students from 17 other schools and FE colleges - of extending their learning and developing new skills through the Welsh Baccalaureate. This new qualification provides a framework for them to continue their A-levels, advanced vocational exams and GNVQ intermediate courses around an innovative central core. In the first week of term, for example, these 150 students created 20 enterprise companies for a team enterprise activity. The programme, organised by Mid Glamorgan Education Business Partnership, brought into school some of south Wales's leading entrepreneurs. Students generated business ideas, business plans and presentations - one entrepreneur was so impressed with one group's idea for a new product that together they contacted the patent office to register the innovation. Unfortunately someone just beat them to the line, so our future Richard Bransons and Anita Roddicks are still waiting for their next break.
Since that first week in September, we've been implementing plans for the delivery of the core (which includes Welsh life, preparation for employment, personal and social education and European awareness). Our students have always worked with local employers, engaged in community activities, visited Europe, and been challenged to develop key skills and participate in PSE. But despite our best efforts, not all of them had access to, or valued, all these elements. The Welsh Baccalaureate core recognises everything they do. We can combine current qualifications with an accredited core - our challenge is to engage all 150 students in all the activities.
We are developing their awareness of Wales, Europe and the world (a module that is part of the compulsory core) by asking them to consider global issues as part of their PSE programme, and to develop their language skills at the University of Glamorgan's language laboratory. These activities will culminate later in the year, when they link up with our European partners in week-long visits to Zarrutz in the Basque region of Spain or Ludvika in Sweden.
Our sixth form has always undertaken one-off charity or community activities - Red Nose Day, and a regular commitment to selling poppies for the British Legion is part of life here. But now students must complete 30 hours of a recognised community activity, not simply a couple of hours of fundraising. In the biggest community project to date, 20 students worked in one of our cluster schools, Alaw primary, to create a 50-metre mural.
The next group are now working in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on what will be the world's longest mural.
Working with industry has always been a high priority for us, and the Welsh Baccalaureate builds on our pre-16 world of work programme, including work experience. They will also be carefully guided by their mentors to ensure they develop all six key skills (communication, application of number, IT, working with others, improving learning and performance, and problem-solving) through their broadened curriculum to at least level 2 (GCSE standard). Advanced students will aim to achieve three key skills at level 3 (A-level standard) and three at level 2.
Next year, the Welsh Joint Education Committee will recognise the students'
achievements in the core (attainment of the key skills, the individual investigation and completion of the curriculum activities) by awarding the Welsh Bac diploma. At advanced level, UCAS has awarded a tariff of 120 points for the core, the equivalent of an A grade at A-level.
This new qualification has allowed us to be innovative in our delivery. It also gives accreditation to the personal development programmes in our school, and will give our students a breadth of experience and increased confidence at interviews with employers and university admissions tutors.
Their future is bright; this high-quality qualification is a major step forward that will enable them to compete in today's business world.
Steve Bowden is head of Porth county community school, Porth, Rhondda Cynon Taff