All-party support has emerged for a proposal to offer Welsh schools and colleges a broad-based baccalaureate instead of A-levels.
At a conference last weekend, Win Griffiths, a Labour education spokesman, said that a pilot project should go ahead: "I would be keen to see if the majority of Welsh youngsters can be successfully accommodated in an all-embracing post-16 qualification."
The conference at Atlantic College, St Donats, near Bridgend, was organised by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, an independent research organisation. Delegates also heard a Conservative spokesman, Gareth Neale, principal of Gwent Tertiary College, express enthusiasm for the project. He said that Sir Ron Dearing's aim of bringing together academic and vocational education gave a green light to the Welsh bac proposals, which would involve all students in practical as well as academic study.
Spokesmen for the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru agreed that the baccalaureate proposals should now be piloted. But the men behind the plan - Colin Jenkins, principal of Atlantic College, which teaches for the International Baccalaureate, and John David, former head of Radyr comprehensive - warned delegates that the Welsh Office remained sceptical. Its officials had informally told them that instead of advocating a separate qualification, they should "tweak Dearing".
The conference, which was attended by headteachers, college principals, education officials and inspectors, heard differing views about the role of the Welsh Joint Education Committee, the main Welsh A-level board. Mr Griffiths said that the pilot bac should be developed by the WJEC, but Mr Neale said that it would regard this as "cutting its own throat".
The Institute of Welsh Affairs says there is dissatisfaction with A-levels, in which Welsh candidates perform less well than their English counterparts.