English 'need to learn from Bac'

15th January 2010 at 00:00
Incoming heads' union chief wants to overhaul under-fire Diploma qualification by emulating Welsh success

England's 14-19 Diplomas should be revamped along the lines of the Welsh Baccalaureate to give pupils a more rounded education, according to the next leader of an influential heads' union.

Brian Lightman, headteacher of St Cyres School in Penarth, wants to use his experience of pioneering the skills-led Bac to influence the development of the Diploma when he becomes general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) later this year.

While the Diploma has been beset by teething problems, with inspection body Ofsted and exams watchdog Ofqual both expressing concerns, the Bac has gone from strength to strength.

This week the Assembly government announced that 50 more schools and colleges would offer the qualification from September, bringing the total to 217.

In his first interview since being elected to ASCL's top job last week, Mr Lightman said it would be "simple" to develop the Welsh Bac to a model that can be used in England.

"The great thing about the Bac is you can do it without losing the traditional qualifications like GCSEs and A-levels," he said.

"Students get a much more rounded education. Diplomas give the same depth but they have been very complicated to implement. People have got to be convinced that they are a suitable alternative and that's a bit of a gamble."

ASCL is pushing for the introduction of a more general diploma in England to better address vocational issues.

The Welsh Bac has already incorporated elements of the Diploma and Mr Lightman said there was no reason why the reverse could not be true.

"If we can learn from our experience with the Bac and broaden the Diploma, incorporate it into a more general or wider qualification, that would be really good," he said. "It would help to make the curriculum much more coherent."

The government's announcement, by education minister Leighton Andrews, means that around 53,000 students will be able to study the Welsh Bac from September.

Mr Andrews said: "Learners at the new centres that will be joining the roll-out from September this year will have new opportunities that will stand them in good stead as they move towards their adult lives.

"Aside from giving Welsh learners the edge, those who study the Welsh Baccalaureate say they have increased confidence and improved `life skills' as a result," he said.

The news was welcomed by heads and teaching unions who said the qualification had proved its worth.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said: "While the future of the Diploma in England hangs precariously in the balance, youngsters in Wales are being offered a qualification increasingly valued by students, staff, employers and universities.

"The Assembly government's goal must now be to ensure that every young person in Wales can take up the Welsh Bac if they want to."

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