Welsh bac to get grades

A-level style marking looks set to oust assessment as the new diploma's roll-out continues, Nicola Porter reports

Traditional A-level grades look likely to replace the current "simple" pass or fail assessment awards of the work-intensive Welsh baccalaureate.

Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, admits there is a legitimate case for overhauling the marking system of the pilot qualification to recognise high achievement.

This follows a major report revealing overwhelming support - from teachers, pupils and parents - for A-E grades to be introduced.

Results out yesterday show 76 per cent of students taking the advanced diploma passed, compared to 96.9 per cent at A-level. Almost 80 per cent of candidates completed the core certificate and options of two A-levels, or equivalent vocational qualifications - 19 per cent more than last year.

Results for the intermediate diploma at GCSE level are due out next week.

A review of assessment was recommended as part of a "landmark report"

endorsing the staggered roll-out of the bac, released last week.

Independent evaluators from Nottingham university found 80 per cent of teachers surveyed believe the vocationally-led qualification better prepares students for university and employment than straight A-levels.

They deemed the pilot a success in 31 schools and colleges since it was launched three years ago.

But the 270-page report also reveals some teachers, parents and pupils remain highly sceptical of the bac's acceptance by English universities, despite it being awarded the equivalent of an A- grade A-level by university admissions body UCAS.

There is also evidence that some teaching staff oppose the qualification and are reluctant to teach it. Some pupils see it as too work- intensive and difficult, preferring instead to concentrate on their A-level options, according to the report.

But Ms Davidson said the bac was always designed to "stretch" students and was never going to be an easy option. She also claimed increased workload for teachers was unavoidable as the new qualification bedded down.

She told The TES Cymru: "The endorsement of the bac by independent experts outside Wales means I don't have to rethink plans. This really was a make or break evaluation and I am breathing a sigh of relief." The minister said she had held back from promoting the bac with "all guns blazing" until the outcome of the academic investigation.

But Dr Heledd Hayes, education officer for the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said it was now vital a massive marketing exercise took place, to win over more hearts and minds.

Plans for the roll-out are not going to be revealed until the autumn. But a question mark was hanging over A-levels this week as a report from the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called for a new English version of the baccalaureate to be introduced as A-levels "are phased out" from 2008.

Ms Davidson said any plans in England would "marry" with what was happening in Wales, claiming the country had stolen the march in the overhauling of traditional A-levels.

Wales-based students outperformed those in England for A-E passes at 96.9 per cent, compared to 96.6 per cent over the border. That equates to a 0.1 per cent rise on last year's results.

There was also a 0.2 per cent increase in A grades across Wales, taking the proportion to 23.9 per cent. This compared to a UK average of 24.1 per cent.

Girls once again outperformed boys, gaining 52.5 per cent of A or B grades, compared to 45.6 per cent for boys.

Gareth Pierce, chief executive of the Welsh Joint Education Committee, said: "It is technically feasible for the bac to be assessed using grades.

There is a strong body of evidence in favour of this."

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

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