The decision by the Education Secretary to develop a baccalaureate qualification in the languages and sciences is a welcome, if tentative, first step. Its parentage owes as much to political and economic considerations as to educational ones. They are intended to give a "dramatic boost" to Scotland's reputation, as well as helping the nation to cut the mustard economically. Quite a pair of claims for a humble school qualification.
This is not, however, the root and branch reform seen in the development of the Welsh "bac", a three-level qualification obtained by success in a range of subjects at GCSE and A-level and includes personal and practical skills. It is also somewhat removed from the 1992 Howie report which envisaged that a Scottish bac would include the arts and the sciences in a broad-based qualification.
No matter how worthy the aims, however, there is no point in having qualifications unless they are recognised: the Welsh bac had early struggles in finding acceptance by universities and employers (even awareness). We trust Fiona Hyslop has, at the very least, sounded out the universities and employers about the value they would attach to the new awards; if they turn their backs on it, she will have been wasting her time.
There are also educational issues to be resolved, principally, as David Raffe points out, whether a bac in languages and the sciences will be seen by pupils (and their parents) as any advance on Higher and post-Higher qualifications in these subjects. The addition of an interdisciplinary project may not be enough to get the juices flowing.
But the bottom line is: can schools deliver? This weekend's annual conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland will ring with tales of woe on staffing and spending reductions. Already, a Glasgow secondary has cut Advanced Higher science from its timetable, not an auspicious start for the baccalaureate.