Welsh Office scorns exam

October 31, 1997

The Government has poured cold water on plans to replace A levels with a Welsh baccalaureate, despite "overwhelming" support for the new qualification among schools, colleges and universities.

The government's "misguided" attachment to A levels has blocked development of a legitimate new overarching qualification that could provide the model for the whole of the UK, John Osmond, director of the Institute for Welsh Affairs, said this week.

A three-month study of over 50 Welsh institutions by the IWA and British exam board Edexcel found 32 schools and colleges ready to join pilots of the Welsh baccalaureate. Support from Welsh universities and business, the report found, was "overwhelming".

The IWA hoped the pilots would provide a model for a new qualification for the UK, and had asked the Welsh Office for Pounds 1.2 million for a three-year pilot in ten schools and colleges. But in a meeting last week with Peter Hain, Welsh Office minister for education and training, they were turned down. The Welsh Office said it was waiting until UK-wide consultation on 16-19 qualifications finished.

Mr Osgood said: "A levels were devised 50 years ago, when only 10 per cent of the cohort were going into sixth form, and only 3 per cent to university." He continued: "Now we have 50 per cent going into sixth form and 30 per cent to university. We need a new approach."

The Government published its consultation document on the future of 16-19 qualifications this month, reiterating a commitment to preserving the A level. The paper, Qualifying for Success, paved the way for greater "parity of esteem" between the vocational and academic routes to higher education, and proposed measures for broadening sixth-form study and instilling key skills in the curriculum.

The document also suggested an "overarching qualification", which would look similar to a French-style baccalaureate, but the government insisted that the existing framework of A levels and GNVQs should remain. Mr Osmond believes that his model for a baccalaureate, where A levels and GNVQs are abolished, could realise this vision.

"The government thinks that its aims can be achieved through simply elaborating on the A level. We don't take that view. The baccalaureate could achieve everything they want," he said.

The Welsh baccalaureate has won the support of universities. Adrian Webb, vice chancellor at the University of Glamorgan, told the IWA: "I am pleased to endorse both the principle and approach of the Welsh baccalaureate."

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