Flawed delivery holds back the Welsh Baccalaureate

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

Children & Young People Committee
Status of the Welsh Baccalaureate (pdf)
Published: 3rd April 2019

“Despite our initial doubts, the evidence we gathered showed clear merit to studying the Welsh Bacc, particularly in terms of the breadth of skills developed by learners for future learning, employment and life. However, we concluded that the way in which the qualification is currently delivered and publicised is having a detrimental effect on its actual and perceived value.”
– Committee Chair, Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen)

The Welsh Baccalaureate was introduced (in its current form) as a stand-alone qualification in 2015. To get the qualification, a student needs to attain a number of component qualifications (like GCSE maths), as well as take part and successfully complete a number of skills challenge certificates in areas such as enterprise, global citizenship, community work and an individual project.

The aim is to create more well-rounded learners who have skills beyond those taught through academic qualifications. The advanced Welsh Bacc. is the equivalent of an A-Level.

1. The value someone attaches to the Welsh Bacc. is linked to how much they understand it

Pupils’ attitudes towards the Welsh Bacc. are broadly negative; more than 50% said it was less useful than other subjects and 66% didn’t believe it would be any use to them in the future. Also, 57% said it was too time-consuming and distracted attention from other subjects. Some witnesses believe it adds to pupils’ exam stress and prevents them from taking part in extra-curricular activities.

Equally, there’s not much understanding of the Welsh Bacc. amongst colleges, employers, parents and some education professionals, while attitudes and understanding differ amongst universities. The complexity of the qualification was cited as one of the main barriers.

Some students did, however, say the Welsh Bacc. helped them in work and to cope with the demands of university, but many only realised this with the benefit of hindsight and had negative attitudes whilst actually doing it. Nevertheless, the Committee said negative attitudes shouldn’t be glossed over.

2. Delivery of the Welsh Bacc. is inconsistent

Some of the examples given to the Committee of inconsistent delivery include:

  • A lack of respect towards the qualification, meaning it’s used as a “filler”; staff, therefore, do it in any spare time and don’t take it particularly seriously.
  • Smaller schools struggle to deliver it in the same way as larger schools.
  • Some teachers consider training in the Welsh Bacc. to be a burden, with delivery often dependent on the enthusiasm of particular teachers.

The Children’s Commissioner said, from discussions with young people, that when teachers actively say they dislike the Welsh Bacc. the attitude carries over to the students.

UCAC (primarily Welsh-medium teachers union) argued that all schools should adopt it – which is the Welsh Government’s aim – while NASUWT wants it to remain optional, believing it’s narrowed the curriculum by reducing subject choice. Gower College Swansea believes it may have even played a role in falls in modern foreign language take-up.

3. There are differing views on whether the Welsh Bacc. is a serious/rigorous qualification

The Committee was told that the Welsh Bacc. and the individual skills challenge certificates are held to the same standards and regulations as GCSEs and A-Levels.

There’s no hard evidence that’s it’s a “soft option”, though different institutions had different attitudes; Coleg Llandrillo considered it more “bigger than an A-Level”, while others believed students were spoon-fed, marking was inconsistent and grades were inflated.

Despite the Welsh Bacc. being designed to meet the demands of Russell Group universities, many of them were believed to not really factor it in when considering admissions. The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) said it was a “myth” that top universities ignored the qualification having discussed it with them.

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