Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Around the UK: Wales

The Welsh Baccalaureate is beginning to prove its worth. But the government must make the funds available to maintain existing levels of quality, says Gareth Jones.

Besides the absence of league tables, SATs, specialist schools and academies, one of the most significant hallmarks of what has been described by the First Minister as "clear red water" between England and Wales is the development of the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification (WBQ). It comprises:

  • the core: key skills; Wales, Europe and the world; work-related education and personal and social education

  • the options: GCSE, VGCSE, AS/A levels, VCE (vocational A levels), NVQ, BTEC

The core is assessed through a portfolio and an individual investigation, and the options by conventional exams.

A pilot is taking place this autumn of a new format in which WBQ core elements (and vocational courses) will have a points equivalence and a student gaining the required number of total points will be deemed to have achieved either threshold level 1 (GCSE D-G) or level 2 (GCSE A*-C). The intention, subject to consultation, is to replace the existing percentage measures.

The full advanced WBQ, for 16-19 year old students, has a UCAS score of 120, that is, equivalent to a grade A.

In its development, the WBQ has undergone very rigorous evaluation by Bath University and Estyn, (the Welsh equivalent of Ofsted) and the results are very positive.

Where England is pursuing a policy of making success in functional skills tests a pre-requisite to gaining an A-C grade, WAG has decided to use the WBQ at foundation, intermediate and advanced levels to ensure that students develop the skills which will be essential for their and the country's future success.

Other 'made in Wales' policies include:

  • a 14-19 Learning Pathways programme with a requirement for all students to have access to a full range of applied and general courses as well as to the services of a trained learning coach

  • a Foundation Stage (the 'play' curriculum) for nursery and Key Stage 1 pupils

  • a school effectiveness framework with experienced and successful school leaders acting as a supporter for improvement in other schools

  • a revised and skills-based National Curriculum for Key Stage 3

  • the use of moderated teacher assessment at KS3 instead of SATs

Funding deficit

All of these policies have been supported by ASCL members but with the expectation that, given the additional costs involved, there would be increased funding per school to facilitate delivery. The reality has been that by 2007, some 20 per cent of the secondary schools were in deficit. As Professor David Reynolds has reported, increases in education spending in Wales since 2001 have not kept pace with other services such as economic development, health or the environment or with the rise in public expenditure in Wales generally.

The challenge for WAG, with regard to its ambition of having "clear red water" in its education policy, is to find sufficient funds in total and to ensure that the distribution mechanisms result in the funds actually reaching schools, rather than being diverted to LEA administrative costs.

That will involve resolving the implications of the fact that the population of Wales is roughly equivalent to that of Greater Manchester, with its eight or nine local authorities, whilst the governance of Wales involves not only an elected National Assembly but 22 local authorities.

That, currently, is the elephant in the room which WAG is unwilling to discuss publicly.

Gareth Jones is secretary for ASCL Cymru

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