The prestigious International Baccalaureate could have strong competition, in Wales at least, with the proposed introduction of a new Welsh version.
Every secondary school and college in the principality is about to receive a questionnaire to test its feasibility. And if more than 15 institutions are willing to take part in a pilot scheme, the Welsh Bac could make its entrance in 18 months' time.
The idea was initially floated in a paper from the Institute of Welsh affairs. But since then the running has been made by two headteachers, John David, recently retired from Radyr Comprehensive near Cardiff, and Colin Jenkins of Atlantic College near Bridgend - an institution well known for its work with the International Baccalaureate.
The proposed Welsh Bac would also have a strong international dimension. But its content would be markedly different and would, according to Mr Jenkins, combine elements of the IB, A-levels and GNVQ vocational courses, as well as insisting on elements of Welsh language.
It would cover six subjects and should, he believes, be less expensive to run than the IB - an important factor for schools and colleges as the cost of public examination s continue to rise. "We have looked to see if there is a way forward that overcomes the problem of A-levels being too narrow and specialised," says Mr Jenkins. "We believe the IB has shown that there can be breadth without losing rigour."
He admits however, that there had been difficulties in extending that principle on the vocational side of the course. The GNVQ commitment is so large that there is little room for in-cluding additional subjects.
John Osmond, director of the Institute for Welsh Affairs, belives the Welsh Bac is in keeping with the views of the former SCAA chairman Sir Ron Dearing, expressed in his review of 16-19 education. Mr Osmond says that key skills (number, communication and information technology) would be tackled through the ordinary subjects. "The institute is responding largely to our members in the business community. But the proposal has also been well received in schools and colleges."
Colin Jenkins has substantia l experience of the IB, and believes there is nothing to lose in pursuing a version tailored for Wales."I think the education of the majority of people in Wales would be improved by the Welsh Bac," he says. "There are constant criticisms about the quality of education, but nobody does anything about it. We are proposing this as a good solution.If we fail, we have still produced a very good report and a very good idea."