Editorial - Like burgers, the bac has an image problem

27th March 2009 at 00:00
The new champ must give the qualification the makeover it so desperately deserves

There has been more spin surrounding the Welsh baccalaureate than Alastair Campbell on a merry-go-round. Admissions tutors from the creme de la creme of English universities - Oxford included - are quoted in glossy brochures extolling the bac's virtues. But if this qualification is really held in such high regard, why has the Assembly government part-funded a glorified marketing manager to push it? The truth is the bac has always had an image problem, but officials are only now admitting it.

In the beginning, the bac was confused with the international baccalaureate, and still is in some quarters. The two qualifications are as different as chalk and cheese - but, hey, they sound the same. Back in 2006, Peter McGowan, the former vocational skills champion, spoke of his uphill struggle selling the made-in-Wales qualification in the "real world". He spoke of demoralising meetings with small business leaders in Wales, who were crying out for graduates with skills but still dismissed the bac with an aloof sniff.

The Assembly government has tried to put a gloss on it too, but clearly it is not good news that only around half of the 50,000 UK higher education course specifications include information about the "acceptability" of the bac. What sort of recognition is that after six years?

The simple fact is that the qualification has not proved as popular as the government predicted, or led us to believe. But, as with all image problems, there is a way forward. If the fast-food chain McDonald's can shed its unhealthy image and see customers come flooding back, then the bac - which has never had a health warning - should be able to do likewise. In fact, there is a growing appetite for this qualification, with a great deal of support from teachers and students alike. It's a shame the great British public continues to be sceptical.

The government owes it to the 30,000 Welsh students signed up to the bac from September to ensure it has some street cred outside Wales. Sixth formers need to know the qualification is valued at the universities they apply to. Teachers, who have worked hard to juggle the extra workload, need to know that their advanced bac students are going to have the edge over those taking purely academic A-levels.

Steve Marshall, the former director of the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, said the bac would become the "best employability qualification in the world". It has yet to live up to this billing, but it still could.

Unlike the international baccalaureate, it will retain the 120-point status with Ucas when the new A* A-level is introduced. That is encouraging.

But the bac desperately needs to have the credit it deserves outside Wales. As attitudes change towards vocational education, the bac will probably find wider acceptance. In the meantime, it needs some hard sell. This new bac champion must drum into even the most academically minded university admissions tutors that the bac really is the equivalent of an A at A-level and nothing less.

Nicola Porter, Editor, TES Cymru, E: nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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