Q&A: The Welsh Baccalaureate

Exams The Welsh Bacc is studied for alongside at least two A-levels

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A record number of young people have achieved the advanced diploma in the Welsh Baccalaureate.

A total of 6,948 were awarded the A grade equivalent, compared with 4,360 in 2010.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said as well as looking at A-level grades, to get the "whole picture" of post-16 education, we have to look at the Welsh Bacc.

From next month, about 70,000 14-19 year-olds across Wales will be able to sign up for the qualification, which sits alongside A-levels.

The Welsh Government says it helps to "develop well-rounded individuals prepared for employment or further learning".

The qualification is equal 120 Ucas points - the same as an A grade at A-level.

But what is it and what does it offer for Welsh students?

What is the Welsh Baccalaureate?

The Welsh Baccalaureate - known as the Welsh Bacc - was first piloted in mainly colleges in 2003 but rolled out to all schools in 2007. It is aimed at giving teenagers a more broader post-16 education than more specialist A-level subjects.

As well as a core of subjects, such as maths and languages, students also get a chance for work experience and voluntary placements.

You can study at different levels, foundation, intermediate and advanced.

For example, if you are likely to get mainly A* to C grades at GCSE you would probably follow the Intermediate Diploma.

For the Advanced Diploma, you will need at least three skills at Level 3 and three at Level 2. These may be either Key Skills or Essential Skills Wales. One of the Level 3 skills must be from Communication, Application of Number and ICT.

Because it's worth 120 Ucas points - the same as an A grade at A-level - you can study it alongside other qualifications.

It has also been seen as something distinctive and ground-breaking to offer in the education system in post-devolution Wales. By 2008, the exam board AQA also started to offer a similar qualification in England.

How do you study for it?

It consists of two parts: core and options.

The core section has five components:

  • Essential Skills Wales and Key Skills
  • Wales, Europe and the World
  • Work-related education
  • Personal and social education
  • Individual investigation

The Options section covers courses and programmes currently offered, e.g. GCSEs, AS and A-levels, NVQs, Business and Technology Education Council qualifications (BTECs), Principal Learning and Project Qualifications.

So how is it assessed?

There is not one Welsh Bacc 'exam'. You pick up key skills in the core and options sections and create a portfolio of evidence showing how you have developed these skills.

You also investigate a topic of your choice - anything that shows off your creativity and presentation skills and how you deal with facts and figures.

Each option has its own exam. Then your scores for all the core and options sections are added together and - if you've passed - you pick up the Welsh Baccalaureate Diploma.

The structure of the Welsh Baccalaureate Core is the same at each level.

How is it different to an A-level?

Unlike A-levels there are no final exams.

Whereas in A-level students receive grades A to E or a U, the Welsh Bacc is a pass or fail qualification.

83.5% of those who took the Bacc passed it, and therefore received the equivalent of an A grade at A-level.

However, only 23.9% of students in Wales who entered an A-Level exam received and A-grade.

What do schools and universities in Wales think about the Bacc?

Dr Jonathan Hicks, head teacher at St Cyres School in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, which was one of the first 19 schools in Wales to pilot the scheme, said they were proud to be part of a "prestigious project".

"Our experiences, to date, have been extremely positive and our results were the best in Wales with 102 students this year gaining the full advanced diploma which is equivalent to an additional A-level at grade A," he said.

Most Welsh universities said they considered the Welsh Baccalaureate to be equal to an A-grade at A-level, worth 120 points. But it's always a good idea to check with the school administrator at your chosen university.

In its Higher Education Recognition Statement, Aberystwyth University said it "will include the WBQ (Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification) in its offers.

"Aberystwyth welcomes the 120 point score allocated to the WBQ Core by the [university admissions body] UCAS Tariff and will make offers on that basis...Aberystwyth recognises the Core as being equivalent to one A-level at grade A."

But Cardiff University is less clear about how different schools and courses view the Welsh Bacc.

"The university recognises that its academic schools have adopted increasingly differing approaches to framing their Welsh Baccalaureate offers over recent years and that this can be confusing for applicants and schools," said a spokeswoman.

"As a result, the university is undertaking a review with the aim of moving towards a more evidence-based and standardised approach to its Welsh Baccalaureate offers. It is our intention to review the University's recognition statement in light of these findings."

The University of Glamorgan said that, in line with the UCAS tariff, it "accepts the Welsh Baccalaureate core as worth 120 tariff points".

But what about English universities?

Helen Charlesworth, admissions tutor for Oxford University, said: "The minimum entry for students studying the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification Advanced Diploma will be two A grades at A-level alongside the core certificate at level 3.

"Some colleges may require candidates to take three A-levels in addition to the Core certificate. Specific A-level subjects may be required for particular degree courses."

And Dr Pamela Hoad, head of admissions at Exeter University, said: "We welcome this qualification and accept the Core as having the recognised tariff value of 120 UCAS points."

But Cambridge University and Birmingham University both want three A-levels as well as the Welsh Bacc.

What do students think about it?

One sixth-former from Croesyceiliog, Cwmbran, who did not want to be named, said: "Personally, I'd have preferred not to do the Welsh Bacc, but we weren't given a choice. We're the first year at the school to do it, and we feel like guinea pigs.

"It's quite wishy-washy - one of the things we had to do was prove we could work in a team by making Christmas boxes for underprivileged children. I'd far rather have done another A-level."

But another student - Scott Garwell of Deeside College - said taking the Welsh Bacc has been "a marvellous experience".

"The qualification has been challenging but it has helped my confidence grow considerably and has given me a stronger impetus to achieve my desired goals," he said.

So why would you do it?

Because the Welsh Bacc combines personal development with academic or vocational qualifications, it teaches you useful skills and gives you experience of the 'real world' of work.

You also learn how to apply skills in practical situations by going on placements, and learn to use your initiative, making you attractive to employers.

Education minister Leighton Andrews said the Welsh Baccalaureate is "an exciting option" for students.

"By combining personal development skills with existing qualifications students are equipped for the next step in their lives, whether that is continuing in higher education or entering the world of work," he said.

Do employers agree?

Roger Evans of Schaeffler UK said: "The Welsh Baccalaureate at last seems to offer the right mix that employers have been waiting for - 'ready made employees' with the appropriate knowledge, skills and attitude to make an immediate difference on entering the workplace."

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