Fathers disown Welsh bac progeny

27th September 2002 at 01:00
Colin Jenkins, a retired head and champion of the International Baccalaureate, is getting used to his new role - as a thorn in the side of the education establishment in Wales.

He claims he and fellow academic John David have been described by a senior civil servant as "viruses". "I went to a meeting the other day - people said 'Oh, you're stirring things up again'," he says. "I suppose I'm not much beloved in the department of education in Cardiff."

Pre-devolution, Jenkins and David were the original architects of a new baccalaureate-style qualification for Wales. With fellow head Eirlys Pritchard-Jones, they began developing the qualification six years ago, backed by the Institute of Welsh Affairs think tank .

Now with the new Welsh bac due to be piloted in schools and colleges across Wales from September 2003 - and with renewed calls for an English version amid the current A-level debacle - the two men should be popping champagne corks, at having seen their ideas bear fruit. But far from celebrating, they have become dissident voices highly critical of the qualification embraced by the National Assembly.

Their latest broadside came this month in the Western Mail newspaper, in which they slated the Welsh bac as a "feeble quick fix" that is likely to become an embarrassment. The pair also claim there has been a lack of proper debate on the new qualification.

Developed by the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) exam board, the bac will provide certificates embracing existing qualifications, including A-levels, AS-levels, vocational A-levels, and GCSEs. It introduces a new core curriculum to provide "added value" to students' optional studies, including study of Wales, preparation for the world of work, community activity, key skills and a modern language module.

Jenkins and David's model was closer to the International Baccalaureate, with six groups of subjects mixing maths and sciences with a second language, art, humanities and literature, complemented by compulsory core studies.

MrJenkins, former head of Atlantic College and one-time deputy director general of the International Baccalaureate, describes the WJEC's Welsh bac qualification as "not a baccalaureate but something based on A and AS-levels", and as "curriculum 2000 with a bit of icing".

"It might work, but it won't work as a baccalaureate," he says. "Youngsters can choose all science subjects if they wish. And there's some general stuff in a core, for example the foreign language requirement is 20 hours.

"This is a waste of time. You either study a language or you don't study a language. When we questioned that, they said it is just a taster. Our model had a proper two-year course. If you wanted to be a linguist you studied at a higher level and, if you didn't, you studied at a standard level. And for vocational youngsters, not good at academic learning, then appropriate courses would be designed.

"At no point had we said that our idea was the final word. But at least it had the basis for what we thought was going to be quite pioneering and exciting in Wales."

John David, former head of Radyr comprehensive school in Cardiff, said: "I cannot see any merit in an award which is simply two A-levels plus a core study which at present hasn't been tested, hasn't been put around the universities, colleges or employers."

The Institute of Welsh Affairs's model has been criticised as being too academic and not inclusive enough. But Mr Jenkins insists this is a misrepresentation. He says it does include vocational elements and was designed with higher, intermediate and foundation levels.

It is easy to accuse the pair of sour grapes. But apart from being an opportunity for Wales, Westminster is watching its progress, so the stakes are high.

"I don't want it to fail," says Colin Jenkins. "What I would like it to do is to be the base for another step. I'm not in the business of being vindictive. It's too serious for that."

The WJEC has been contracted to pilot the Welsh baccalaureate in collaboration with the University of Bath and the Welsh colleges'

organisation Fforwm. Higher Education Wales and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service are represented on the project's steering group, said a National Assembly spokeswoman.

"It is a qualification in which employers and higher education institutions can have confidence."

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