Welsh Baccalaureate

The Welsh Baccalaureate, in the words of the WJEC is “a qualification for 14 to 19 year old students in Wales.” I am 17 years old, in Year 12, studying for my A levels in Cardiff High School. We are required to study the Welsh Baccalaureate along our usual A levels.

I have serious concerns about the Welsh Baccalaureate qualification. I also have serious concerns about my school requesting that I don’t criticise the Welsh Baccalaureate. This isn’t the first time they’ve attempted to stifle my freedom of speech – that honour goes to the Jesus and Mo issue. However, I’m going to be talking about the Welsh Baccalaureate in this post, not the freedom of speech problem – that’s a discussion for another day (February 11th, if you didn’t already know!)

One of the main problems with the Welsh Bac is that it is not even a proper baccalaureate. In a proper baccalaureate, you are required to study maths, English, science, and a language. With the Welsh Bac, there is no requirement to include science content. The language component is also weak. The people who developed the first draft of the Welsh Bac called the language component “a waste of time”.

In my experience, the entire course is weak – the maths section is nothing more than some scale drawings and basic calculations, and the ICT component is a watered down ICT course involving tedious activities such as capturing screenshots of every little thing you do, using Microsoft Office, laying out an article correctly, using Microsoft Office (Yes, the reliance on Microsoft Office really grinds my gears. There’s better, cheaper software out there!)

Another massive problem with the Welsh Baccalaureate is that, whilst it may be an additional 120 UCAS points, most universities do not consider it the A grade at A level that you are promised when embarking on the course. Cardiff University will only consider it a B grade at A level (personally, I think they’re being very generous), the University of Glamorgan will reduce the entry requirements from 3 Bs at A level to 2Bs and the Welsh Bac for their nursing course, and Aberystwyth Uni have stated that they will consider the Welsh Bac as a “valuable qualification in its own right … [and] we may be prepared to give a slightly reduced offer to Welsh Baccalaureate candidates, provided any course requirements are met.” They haven’t stated exactly how they’d ‘slightly reduce’ the offers though. Other universities such as Imperial College, for the BSc Medical Sciences course, provide a list of alternative qualifications. This doesn’t even list the Welsh Bac.

Most disturbing of all are the comments from Jeff Jones, chair of the WJEC when they bid for the Welsh Bac. He warned student off taking the Bac, saying “No wonder Russell Group universities who can get students from England with four A stars are not that interested. If I were a student I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole – even though I played a small part when I was chair of the WJEC in its development.” Mr Jones also said it’s “really an A level with a load of nonsense added on. It isn’t a proper Bac where students at 18 would still be required to study maths, English, a science and a language, not meaningless Mickey Mouse additions. What the heck is the use of ‘Wales and the World’ for a start?” He admitted that “Both the then chief executive and I discussed whether to bid for the pilot. We both agreed that it looked like nonsense but I argued that we needed the money and in any case, we had to bid because we were the Welsh exam board.” So there you have it – even the ex-head of the WJEC wouldn’t take the Welsh Baccalaureate qualification.

I don’t think it’s fair that we have no choice in doing the Bac. I’d much rather spend the time doing work towards the qualifications that actually matter and will affect my chances of into uni – my A levels. I hope my school, if they read this, will understand my frustration at being told not to criticise something that is in dire need of people speaking out to criticise it. I’d also like to find out how much money they’re receiving to offer the course and how that money is being spent.

16 Responses to “Welsh Baccalaureate”

  1. Dan April 11, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    I study a level 3 BTEC course and similarly are “forced” to take the Essential Skills Wales and Welsh Bacc. However, each offer I have received from a University, states absolutely nothing about either of the above, therefore I wonder, along with my fellow students, do we even HAVE to take it? Will it mean I will fail my course should I choose to prioritise? None of my lecturers or college governors are able to give me a straight answer in any way, shape or form.

  2. Bill Jones May 9, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

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  3. Nick Baurley May 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Hello Rhys,

    My wife and I share your concerns about the Welsh Baccalaureate (WBQ) Advanced as we have a son in Year 13 at Llanishen High who hopes to go on to study Geography at Lancaster University this autumn. He is doing three A levels – Geography, History & Chemistry – in addition to the mandatory WBQ.

    In its present form, the WBQ is an impediment to those students with the ability and desire to study at the best universities.
    The WBQ Organisation tells us that the Advanced level qualification is “welcomed by the majority of institutions”
    (http://www.wbq.org.uk/eng/wbq-home-2010/wbq_2010_home/wbq-moreforhe.htm), but seeing as there are 119 universities in the UK
    (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/table/2011/may/17/university-league-table-2012), it would be a majority if only sixty accepted it. I wonder what is the true figure?
    The WBQ Organisation also tells us that the “issue seems to be impacting on a minority of universities at the moment, commonly known as the Russell Group” (email from Ross Thomas, WBQ Development Officer, 20mar12), but this group of twenty universities all happen to be in the top fifty in the UK (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/table/2011/may/17/university-league-table-2012) and they are not the only ones (in the top 50) ‘rejecting’ the WBQ; this makes it very significant.
    The fact is, any Welsh student wishing to study at one of the UK’s better universities will likely find that the WBQ is not accepted as part of the conditional offer; in the best case, it will probably only be taken into consideration if the student (narrowly) fails to make the required A level grades.

    Now, I have nothing against the WBQ in principle: I happen to think that it is a commendable initiative to have a broader based (A-level-type) qualification and I am sure that it is of great benefit to many students. Unfortunately, in its present form, it does not serve the needs of all students and, until this is rectified, there should be a means for such students to opt out of the WBQ (if so desired), so that they can concentrate on those A levels that will get them where they want to go.
    In my son’s case, Lancaster University (who are in the top ten) have this year decided that they will no longer accept the Welsh Baccalaureate and – though he has been consistently tipped by his teachers to be a ‘top’ student – it is now unlikely that he will make the grades demanded in their conditional offer; Lancaster will only take the WBQ Advanced into
    consideration “should the conditional offer be narrowly missed” (their words).
    Further, according to an article in TES Magazine titled ‘Schools see benefit of Welsh Bac as A-level grades falter’ (http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6110642), it appears that my son is not the only to get lower than expected grades. Dated 2-Sep-11, the opening paragraph states: “The value of the Welsh Baccalaureate has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks after figures revealed a decline in the number of students gaining top A-level grades.” Is this just a coincidence, or is the WBQ Advanced really having a measurable, adverse affect on students’ other grades? The next set of A level results in August should shed more light and definite action needs to be taken if this trend is confirmed.

    As parents, my wife and I find it galling to have our son spend a substantial part of his time studying a qualification that is of marginal use in getting him to the university of his choice; time that could have been better spent working on his (other) A levels, if only he had the choice. I am sure there are many other parents who feel the same.
    Had we known two years ago what we know now, we would have sought to remove our son from the WBQ: initially, we would have tried to do this in cooperation with the school; failing that, we would have taken legal advice; in short, we would have used whatever means possible to prevent/minimise his involvement with the WBQ. We have therefore made our views known to the WBQ Organisation, Llanishen High and our local Welsh Assembly Member, requesting that an ‘opt out’ clause be put in place. Unfortunately, our concerns are too late to help our son, but hopefully they can help others following-on.
    Incidentally, we recently heard of a pupil at another Cardiff secondary school who (with the backing of his parents) has informed the school that he will refuse to partake in the WBQ when he starts his A levels this autumn; will be interesting to see what happens there.

    My advice to you depends on whether you think continuing to study the WBQ will adversely affect your (other) A level grades to the point that you will not be able to get in to the university of your choice: if the answer is ‘no’, then I suggest you just get on with it by doing the minimum possible; if the answer is ‘yes’, then you need to ‘fight’ it and I hope your parents will support you in this.

    One last thing: my wife accompanied my son to a recent Open Day at Lancaster and met two parents (from Rhyl & Llandudno) who said their children were not studying the WBQ. Unfortunately, my wife did not take any details, but it appears that the Welsh Assembly Government is using a different definition of ‘compulsory’ to the one we are used to. My wife tried to raise this issue with a certain Julian Pritchard (who I believe works in the Welsh Assembly Government Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills), but he was openly dismissive, simply re-iterating that the WBQ Advanced was ‘compulsory’ for all A level students in Wales; I have mentioned this to our AM in the hope she can shed some light.

    Feel free to contact me if you so wish.

    All the best,
    Nick.

  4. Agata March 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

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  5. Andrew February 16, 2012 at 12:27 am #

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  6. andy February 14, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    I used to manage the exam markers at the International Baccalaureate Organisation, the International Baccalaureate version is much harder than the Welsh version, just thought I’d mention it

  7. Autismum February 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    I studied the International Baccalaureate. Within that system you are required to take Maths, at least one science, a language, a humanity and literature across six subjects – three at higher level and three at subsidiary. In addition, students are required to study an epistemology component and write an extended essay” that is a work of their own research. The difficulty many students from the UK experienced (I studied at an international college) was the huge leap between this level of study and GCSEs – a far wider chasm than between they and A-Levels.
    The IB is now well recognised and highly respected. The Welsh bac isn’t even a pale imitation – it’s a very poor parody.

  8. Acleron February 8, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    That’s the sort of school attitude I would have expected 50 years ago, but from dim memory I don’t recall being refrained from any extra-school activity. That it should happen in this day and age says a lot about the confidence the school has in what it does ie very little and their knowledge of the modern world ie very little. How does a school hope to suppress free speech in the days of WEB 2.0?

    The sooner you get to university and away from them the better. If it is an option, just stop working on the Welsh Bac and concentrate on the real qualifications.

  9. inneedofealing February 7, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    The system is general has form for this sort of thing. Back in the 90s we were encouraged to take up BTEC courses (which became the NVQ) with the promise they’d be considered equivalent to GCSE and A-Level by colleges and universities. Surprise surprise, this wasn’t the case and I’m sure a lot of people got caught out by that!

    Kudos to you for not keeping your head down and presenting a well reasoned critique instead of what smacks of a welsh assembly vanity project.

    Interestingly, it seems that it’s not compulsory across Wales- so presumably that’s the school/LEA’s decision. Would be interesting to know why this is.

  10. Ophelia Benson February 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    It’s not very good but you’re required to study it? That sounds like a terrible arrangement.

    And no your school shouldn’t ask you not to talk about it. It’s a school, not MI5.

  11. Jon February 7, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    The problem is that ANY debate regarding standards in education or teaching is met with kneejerk reflex hysteria by the NUT. Everyone knows education standards have fallen massively, but any suggestion of this, or the removal of extremely poor teachers, is met by hostility, or the suggestion that exams are getting easier, or indeed what you are saying here, is that it’s “an attack on hard working students”. Debate over, the status quo continues, pupils are let down.

    Regarding your point about the BACC and particularly ICT, a friend of mine is involved with the RaspberryPI project to being “proper” understanding of what ICT really is back to classrooms, and his experience as a parent and governor is the same as yours as a pupil. Except any question about whether being able to paste a screenshot into MS Word is met with what he describes as “hostility” and stone-walling.

    Some good books to check out are “The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education”, “To Miss With love”, “It’s Your Time You’re Wasting” or indeed any book slated as “disgraceful” by the NUT should be worth a read!

  12. Tom Williamson February 7, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    Always nice to read a well-reasoned case!

  13. xtaldave February 7, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    Well done Rhys – this looks like it needs saying, and if universities and the course organisers are openly questioning the use of the Welsh Bacc, then students have every right and I would say every need to question what they are doing wasting their time on it.

    It seems very unfair for schools to experiment with your future by insisting you take a course which apparently gives little benefit to the students.

  14. Alan Henness February 7, 2012 at 4:51 am #

    Rhys said:

    I’d also like to find out how much money they’re receiving to offer the course and how that money is being spent.

    Presumably an FOIA request would sort that out?

    • David February 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

      Its probably a similar amount to other colleges forcing students to do General Studies. It adds nothing to there offers to Unis but colleges make a load of money off it.

    • Autismum February 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      You could request that info from the school governors

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