I must respond to the reported comments of the Institute of Welsh Affairs that the Welsh baccalaureate is a "missed opportunity" (TES, April 19).
The institute wants a qualification based on the International Baccalaureate and it is entitled to advance that view. However, it is disappointing that the institute engages in destructive criticism of the Welsh baccalaureate simply because we are taking a different approach.
The contract to design and deliver the Welsh baccalaureate was awarded following a tender process. Tenders needed to show that they met our objectives for the qualification. This did not rule out drawing on the IWA model or any other model. In the event we received no tenders based on the IWA model.
Nineteen schools and colleges will be piloting the Welsh baccalaureate from September 2003. There is a great deal of interest across Wales in the baccalaureate and support for the principles on which it is based.
It is misleading to suggest that the baccalaureate adds up to little change in post-16 education. This is a significant innovation which will broaden students' programmes and bring coherence to them. The programme will be distinctive, modern and proudly Welsh.
The baccalaureate introduces a new core of learning which students will follow at both level 2 and level 3, alongside their general or vocational subject studies. This core programme will include study of Wales, Europe and the world; an extended individual research project; a modern language module; personal and social education; community service; work-related education and work experience. The programme will incorporate key skills and contextualise them.
For subject studies we are retaining existing qualifications as part of the baccalaureate. By doing this, we are protecting the interests of our students. Young people deserve to gain qualifications which enjoy the widest possible currency and which employers and admissions tutors recognise and understand.
We make no bones about not producing an elitist bac to which only the best high-flyers can aspire. We want to attract and retain as many young people as possible in post-16 education and help them to achieve, both in academic and vocational subjects. I made clear from the outset that I wanted the Welsh baccalaureate to be a qualification that would work in schools and colleges from Merthyr to Colwyn Bay and in English and Welsh and that is exactly what we get from the 19 pilot centres.
I am confident that the baccalaureate offers a distinctive and exciting new direction for 16 to 19-year-olds in Wales.
Minister for education and lifelong learning Welsh Assembly.