Academically bright pupils have been threatened with exclusion if they fail to take up or complete the advanced-level Welsh baccalaureate, claim opposition Assembly members.
The threats followed protests from pupils at a south Wales secondary who wanted to take four A-levels rather than three A-levels and the bac, according to Plaid Cymru's Janet Ryder, shadow education minster.
Plaid has received complaints from other pupils in schools piloting the new qualification who believe their right to choose a dedicated A-level route has been taken away. But Jane Davidson, education, lifelong learning and skills minister, told Assembly members there was no need for any pupil to take more than three A-levels, especially as the bac is winning over top-flight universities.
She also claimed the bac would give pupils a head start on other A-level pupils because it gives them vital "employability skills".
Bac students have to complete at least two A-levels (or equivalent) plus a "core" study programme including key skills, a languages module, an individual research project, work experience, and study of Wales and the world.
The bac's broader-based study has been welcomed by employers and most universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. A TES Cymru survey last year (May 27, 2005) found that most universities would accept the new qualification, worth 120 UCAS points - or an A-grade A-level.
But Ms Ryder said: "Those who seek an academic route must be valued and supported."
The Welsh bac is currently being piloted in 31 schools and colleges.
Subject to external evaluation, the qualification will be rolled out to all 14-19 learners at foundation, intermediate and advanced level by September 2010.