This summer the pilot stage of the Welsh Baccalaureate approaches the end of its first full cycle. Advanced level diploma students will complete the course this July. It was introduced in 2003 by the Welsh Assembly and compares in style to the Tomlinson proposals on 14 to 19 education turned down at Westminster.
Bouyed up by the continuing commitment of Jane Davidson, the Assembly's minister for education and lifelong learning, and by the general enthusiasm of the 2,500 students on the pilot programme, Bac officers are optimistic.
It's increasingly clear, they say, that successful students will find the advanced level of the Bac (it's also available at intermediate level) widely approved of by higher education.
It's already established that the core section will carry 120 Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) tariff points, making it the equivalent of an A-grade A-level, and project director Keith Davies quotes from a list of welcoming statements from higher education institutions - Oxford university, for example, will accept the advanced level Welsh Bac core plus two other top-grade A-levels as a minimum entry qualification.
Under the Welsh Bac system a typical sixth-former will take the core plus two or three A-levels or GNVQs.
Mr Davies does anticipate some changes to come, however, particularly at the intermediate level."Some of the centres feel that the demands may be too high for students at that level," he says. "But let's get the full cycle over, and then look to see if there are changes needing to be made."
Some of those worries, it is thought, will be addressed by the arrival of the easier Foundation Level Diploma.
So far this has been waiting in the wings, but this Spring the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC ) advertised for a development officer and it's envisaged that the foundation level Bac will start in September 2006.
"It will have the same kind of structure as the other levels, but the core will probably be proportionately greater," says Mr Davies.
Another decision that's pending is whether the Bac - currently for the 16 to 19 age group - should be available to a wider audience.
"We've had requests from some of the centres to run a pilot for the 14 to 16 group at intermediate level," Mr Davies says. "It's another issue to be looked at."
Keith Davies, will speak about the Future of the Welsh Bac on Friday, May 27 at 3pm.
THE WELSH BACCALAUREATE
The Welsh Bac currently being piloted in 13 colleges and 18 schools, is described as an "over-arching qualification". That's to say it has a two-part structure that draws existing post-16 qualifications into a partnership with a new "core" section with four sections:
* Key Skills
* Wales, Europe and the World
* Work-related Education
* Personal and Social Education.
Currently, it's offered at two levels - intermediate, which is for students currently studying at GCSE or intermediate GNVQ level, and advanced, which is for students working at A-level or advanced GNVQ.
A key aim is to give parity to academic and vocational studies, although in practice achieving this is difficult. The experience of the pilot is that schools go for the academic studies and colleges for the vocational.
Westminster's rejection of the Tomlinson proposals threw up question marks over the future of the Bac, and opposition members in the Assembly suggested there would be problems of lack of comparability with English qualifications. However the Assembly, and particularly Jane Davidson, the minister, apparently remain committed, and the Bac is still on course for a national roll-out, at a date which Jane Davidson will announce, probably next spring after a full evaluation of the pilot.