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Welsh bac will go to all sixth forms

Exam gets green light despite lack of parity with England. Nicola Porter reports

The Welsh Baccalaureate will be introduced into all sixth forms, despite England's rejection of a diploma equivalent, Jane Davidson insisted this week.

The minister for education and lifelong learning said she was still fully committed to the new qualification, even though the Westminster government has rejected proposals for a comparable diploma incorporating academic and vocational qualifications.

And she assured Assembly members that Welsh students who opted to take the new exam would not be at a disadvantage with English employers and universities. David Davies, Tory education spokesperson for Wales, told Ms Davidson at a meeting of the Assembly's education and lifelong learning committee: "There needs to be parity between the Welsh and English systems.

"How are English employers and universities going to know what students are capable of if they have no experience of the Welsh bac?"

Ms Davidson insisted the qualification, which is being piloted in 19 schools, would not be rejected in England and was already proving popular with Welsh students.

She said: "The Welsh bac is already being acknowledged in other parts of the UK, and Welsh students who opt to take the exam will have currency with English universities and employers who are not going to reject the bac.

"When plans for it were devised, the Welsh Joint Education Committee ensured that it was going to be flexible and broad enough to be received anywhere."

The bac is made up of A-levels, GCSEs andor vocational qualifications, plus a "core" curriculum including work experience, community participation, and a language unit.

The Tomlinson report proposed an over-arching diploma that also incorporated both vocational and academic qualifications, but also called for the phasing out of A-levels and GCSEs.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly rejected the move in a white paper response to the inquiry, and proposed reforms to vocational qualifications. The move was criticised by teaching unions and leading educationists in England, who said she had missed an opportunity to give vocational qualifications parity with academic ones.

Assembly members also grilled Teresa Rees, author of a study on university tuition fees in Wales, after she told them her report was a "bit of a fudge".

Professor Rees of Cardiff university said there was no easy option for plugging the funding gap in higher education. The academic and her team of researchers have come up with six options, including adopting variable fees of up to Pounds 3,000 - which will be introduced in England from 2006. No changes are expected in Wales until 2007.

They are also looking at how Welsh businesses could fund apprentice schemes for graduates.

But Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's education spokesperson, said tuition fees would lead to inequality, debt and student poverty.

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