Welsh Baccalaureate or bust?


The Education system in Wales is not bust but it could do a heck of a lot better. In fact it must do a heck of a lot better very soon. So say Estyn, so says the Deputy Minister for Skills. So, to be blunt, says just about everyone I've interviewed over the last couple of days.

From today one thing is in no doubt: Wales is diverging significantly from England in the way pupils will in future be taught and tested.

It's doing that, incidentally, not by striking out on its own, but by sticking to its guns, opting to build on current qualifications rather than going for wholesale change. It's the UK government who has torn up the existing system, deemed it damaging to standards and decided it's time for big changes.

But let's not get hung up on who left who. All I know is that the old mutual consent line isn't applicable here. Whoever walked, we now know that England will be going one way, Wales the other. And the head teachers we've interviewed, the unions who represent them, the parents, the pupils and the politicians have all pretty much stood in front of the camera and said the same thing.

Let's start with the head teachers, Paula and Greg Dixon. Same surname, same home, same job - but one crucial difference. His school is in Flintshire, hers on the Wirral. He's accountable to the Welsh government; she's accountable to the UK government. Bottom line? They reckon the Welsh Government might well be right not to follow England on this one. But ... I'll come back to that in a moment.

Sharon Betts and her sons Matthew and Jordan live in Quaker's Yard. Matthew knows an awful lot about physics, Jordan's fractions were immaculate. They all reckon the Welsh Government is right to build on the current system, right to give schools the choice of pinning everything on one set of exams or letting pupils pick up marks during the school year. But ... the same, big but.

The unions think the Welsh Government is certainly right not to follow, "blindly follow" as they might put it, the UK government. But ...

What about the leader of the Conservatives in the Assembly? Should the Welsh government have done what Michael Gove has done in England, I asked him this afternoon. "What I'm saying is that they've got it very wrong in the past and that qualifications must be made to count" came the answer from Andrew RT Davies which doesn't add up to "yes".

He ended up in the same place, with that big, fundamental 'but'. The Welsh Government might be on the right track but in the political PR battle to come, head teachers, parents, pupils, unions and politicians all fear Wales will lose out. And if Wales does lose the battle of perception, then their pupils, their sons and daughters, will be worse off.

The thinking goes like this: the Education Minister, Leighton Andrews and his deputy, Jeff Cuthbert, know the credibility of the new Wales-only exams will be absolutely critical for head teachers, parents, pupils, employers, universities and yes, voters. They accept the need to persuade all of the above that they've got this right. They're planning a publicity campaign later this year to raise awareness of the new Welsh Bacc, the new qualifications system in Wales - targeted in particular at England.

Because there is a minister in Michael Gove who must equally persuade all of the above that he has made the right call, that his English Bacc knocks the Welsh Bacc into a cocked hat, that his emphasis on more challenging exams and academic rigour will deliver gold standard qualifications.

Picking up marks for coursework as they can in Wales? Three goes at getting the grade you need? Someone, somewhere in Westminster will point out that sounds to them more like bronze than gold.

The challenge for ministers then? If - if - qualifications gained in England are indeed seen as the gold standard, what do they do now to ensure exams sat by pupils in Wales are judged in future to be equally rigorous, equally valued?

Betsan Powys, Political editor, Wales Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    That is your view, its most certainly is not mine. That's a laugh London Government inability to deliver over the last 30 YEARS. Act now before its too late before the Bullingdon Club damage us anymore. They haven't delivered for the last 30YEARS. Are you sure you are not Roseace?

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    67. oh dear I must have upset some of you, my appologies..

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    That is your view, it most certainly is not mine. More effective if were disbanded. More powers? that's a laugh given the wag's inability to deliver. They haven't delivered yet so act now before the damage done cannot be repaired.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Far more effective and accountable means giving them more powers to do the job properly. Then if they don't deliver you can vote another party in not go cap in hand to London

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Well said Boxer Gutless politicians they all over the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    No I'm suggesting we review our position and remove/replace wag with something far more effective and accountable

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Exactly!! So vote in another Party. You don't get rid of what has been democratically voted for twice.
    The coalition aren't delivering are you suggesting we get rid of parliament.
    You vote in another party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    #88 'Who is You?' Obviously the same person who referred to 'our' local hospitals.
    FTR I would love to see all hip replacements in Souith Wales taking place in one expert orthopaedic centre, which should be big enough to attract good consultants and trainees.
    And two neuro centres herewas gutless failure to decide by politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Previous London governments have been made accountable and removed.
    Today's solutions for today's problems is what is required for Wales, the wag is just not delivering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    So previous London Governments are not accountable so lets blame WG Could logic
    Who is You? I'm alright Cardiff North how about you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    #83 'Do you think London would have saved our local hospitals. ?'
    You can't afford your local hospitals and London certainly can't. There is a good argument to shut a lot more hospitals in London: there is no good argument to keep doing hip replacements in Blaenau Ffestiniog, and the fact that Auntie Blodwen can visit daily on a 2d bus-ride isn't one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.


    These are assertions I disagree with. We need to address today's problems today not play the blame game.
    The wag is just not doing that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Todays problems are a result of a cancer created by successive London Governments. Todays problems are a culmination of years of neglect.
    London Governments have FAILED MISERABLY to address these problems. As your Tory friends would say we are clearing up the previous governments mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.


    We are discussing opinions. Clearly I will be unable to change your mind on your perceived benefits of the wag, you will in the same way be unable to change my mind on something that I believe is doing untold harm to Wales now. We need to address today's problems today, and learn from the past, the wag is, in my view failing miserably to address today's problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    And Maggie was good for Wales? and also Millions of pounds from EU wasted. Do you think London would have saved our local hospitals. Do you agree we should follow Michael Gove's Education policy which has been condemned by academics . Do you think our children should pay£9000 tuition fees or people pay for prescriptions. Would London have attempted to save our airport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    That answer for me is simple.

    London governments have done NOTHING as damaging as the wag has achieved in its short existence!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    I don't agree with everything WAG do but what is the alternative.
    I ask again what have London Governments done for Wales.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I'm just disagreeing with the assertion you make that you somehow try to use to justify your defence of all things wag.
    There is no evidence that without the wag we would be treated differently to any other part of Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Can you explain to me what successive London Governments have achieved in Wales. What did they improve? Remember there was no recession of this magnitude.They certainly didn't spend wisely when it came to EU funding. Do you think London will fight our corner?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    A greater proportion of 15 year olds in Welsh medium schools achieved five or more GCSEs grade A*-C or vocational equivalents.
    The rate of absenteeism in Welsh medium schools was lower than in English medium schools.


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