Welsh education minister Jane Davidson said she wanted to appeal to those who leave school with only a handful of low GCSE grades.
The move means the Welsh '"bac" will differ from the international version, which offers an alternative to A-level. The Welsh will have a bac pitched at A-level standard, to be piloted in 18 schools from 2003. But alongside it will be a GCSE-level version. A third version, pre-GCSE, could follow. The decision is intended in part to counter criticism from some assembly members that the Welsh bac will be elitist.
Success at the GCSE-level bac would allow students to go on to take the full qualification.
"This is not going to be dedicated to the 2 per cent most able students," Ms Davidson said. The pilots will take place in a wide range of schools and colleges across Wales.
"There are an awful lot of young people who get four or five GCSEs with D or E grades and are branded as failures," she said. "I believe the rounded element of the bac will enable some of these people to carry on learning."
The move forms part of reforms to qualifications across the 14-19 age range which echo developments in England. It will be the most high-profile change yet to the system which the devolved assembly inherited from Westminster.
In a sign of the growing difference in approach between England and Wales, Ms Davidson repeated her pledge that exam league tables would not be published again in their current "crude" form - and could be scrapped entirely. Value-added tables are the most likely option.