Big variations in the standard of Welsh Bac teaching

Pupils taking exams
The Welsh Bac qualification has become increasingly popular Photo: ITV News Wales

Education watchdog Estyn says the Welsh Baccalaureate has many strengths, but there is significant variation in standards between different schools, and teaching of key skills could be much better.

The watchdog's report, released today, finds "the Welsh Baccalaureate offers many benefits to students." These include a broader range of topics that are offered on the curriculum. However, "the standards achieved vary a good deal between students and between schools", reflecting how different schools approach and teach the qualification.

The Welsh Baccalaureate helps young people to develop their skills and understanding across a range of topics, such as enterprise, politics and current affairs that they might not have studied otherwise. There is variability in the quality of provision. The biggest weaknesses are in how essential skills are taught and assessed. In many schools, there is an imbalance between the time spent completing the paperwork relating to essential skills qualifications and the time spent on improving students' actual skills and transferring these to support learning across the curriculum. In the majority of schools the quality of teaching in the 'core' is generally good. However, in a minority of teaching sessions, students are not challenged enough because teachers do not plan well enough to meet the needs of the full ability-range of students.

– Ann Keane, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales

The Baccalaureate was introduced in September 2007, as a qualification for 14-to-19-year-olds here, designed to give "broader experiences than traditional learning programmes." Pupils are taught subjects such as Europe and the World and Personal and Social Education, which aim to prepare them for life after education. The numbers taking the Welsh Bac across the country have grown rapidly from 1,329 in 2007 to 8,323 in 2011. Last January, the Welsh Government announced that it would be rolled out to many more schools and colleges.

Estyn highlights a great deal of paperwork that needs to be completed by both teachers and pupils doing the qualification. It also says evaluation procedures need to be improved, with senior school staff unaware of the progress of students, and students themselves having "too little input."

The watchdog makes a number of recommendations:

  • The Welsh Government should consider reviewing the qualification's structure, to focus on eliminating weakness in it
  • The awarding body, the WJEC, should provide further guidance and support to schools, particularly in delivering and assessing essential skills
  • Secondary schools should monitor how they deliver and assess essential skills so they are not too bureaucratic
  • Secondary schools should evaluate the quality of teaching, and use students' feedback to improve the provision of the Welsh Baccalaureate

The Welsh Government says it welcomes the report, which it commissioned to inform the way the Welsh Bac develops in the future.

Since its introduction the Welsh Baccalaureate has been broadly welcomed by learners, educators and employers. Many examples of good practice by schools are identified in the report and we agree that these need to be shared across Wales to ensure a consistently high standard of delivery of the Welsh Baccalaureate. We agree with the need to introduce grading at Advanced Level and work is in hand to introduce that for courses starting in September 2013. Our Review of Qualifications for 14-19 year olds in Wales has picked up many of the points noted in Estyn's report and our consultation on the Review, which is open until 1 September, seeks views on the content and structure of the core of the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification, with a view to future development. The assessment of Essential Skills Wales and the Wider Key Skills are also under consideration and will feed into the wider Review of Qualifications.

– Welsh Government spokesperson

WJEC has been involved in developing and piloting the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualifications from their inception. We welcome Estyn’s report, particularly the very positive references to the benefits students have gained from their Welsh Baccalaureate studies. We also endorse Estyn’s recommendation that there is potential to develop the Bac further. Our own findings confirm that there is a strong case for grading the Welsh Bac at Advanced level, and we continue to develop additional, bilingual resources to support delivery of the programme, such as new language modules in six modern foreign languages including Japanese and Mandarin. We have invested in a regional support team for the Welsh Bac, serving schools and colleges throughout Wales, and it is very pleasing to see the quality and impact of this team being recognised in Estyn’s findings.

– Gareth Pierce, WJEC Chief Executive