In this piece I make the argument that the Welsh baccalaureate is damaging the educational opportunities of tens of thousands of Welsh children. It is specific to Wales but I urge teachers across the UK to look at this as well. I make three central points and would welcome explicit refutation on any of them.
1. Welsh Bacc is designed to increase ’employability’ I argue that this should not be the purpose of education and therefore a flagship qualification that takes up to 10% of the entirety of KS4 teaching time should not have this as its goal.
2.Welsh Bacc is designed to prepare learners for ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’ and that this approach has been challenged very successfully as a poor goal for education.
3. Welsh Bacc being 100% coursework and backed by the government as a school KPI from 2018 is open to manipulation in an era of increased accountability.
I could have adopted the approach of breaking and attempting to dissect the specification fine by line. This, however would make for fairly boring reading. I urge any teachers especially those who may have any influence to spend some time reading the specification which can be found here.
1. The single biggest problem I have with Welsh baccalaureate qualification lies in it’s purpose. The WJEC, the government and in part the industry backers actively support the qualifications aim. The aim of the qualification is to increase the candidates ’employability’. This reduces the aim of education to a simplistic function, a single aim of preparation for work. I fundamentally disagree, in the strongest of terms with this idea. Education is far more important than that. There is little point disagreeing with this, it is a question that has dogged thinkers since Socrates and will no doubt still be discussed when the human race finally destroys itself.
2. I also have serious reservations about any ‘new’ qualification that purports to support the idea that somehow a traditional education based on subject knowledge does not prepare people adequately for ‘future jobs’. This is an argument that has been made many times and far more eloquently and erudite than I could manage, read this from Greg Ashman or.
this from Martin Robinson. The Welsh Bacc actively promotes itself as a qualification designed to meet both of these aims.
3. The Welsh government are aggressively pursuing the qualification in the strongest terms, this is despite the qualification coming under fire from teachers and students ever since its inception. The government have made it an indicator of a schools performance from 2018 and will be actively comparing schools, based on the results that schools achieve at KS4. In my opinion this is an insidious tactic purposefully designed to counter the argument that ‘schools are forced to offer the qualification’. The wider political ramifications of why the Welsh government want this is a separate debate.
The qualification is 100% course work. Like it or not anyone who has been involved with education for any period of time knows what happens with qualifications like this. It works like this.
HT : “have you completed your progress review for you year 11 welsh bacc classs?”
Teacher: “Yes did it last week boss”.
HT : “OH it’s just that you have said here that 7 of the kids haven’t got C’s?”
Teacher : “yes that’s correct, kid a) has 20% attendance, Kid b) has reading age of 9, Kid c,d,e Just sit in the lessons and do nothing I have tried and tried but they just won’t complete the work. Kid f) Misses 50% of the lessons because they go to a literacy intervention every week and Kid g) Has some very complex SEN needs.
HT : “Ahhh hahah Yes there are some tricky characters in there….. But what can you do about it?”
Teacher : “Ummm I have already provided all the interventions in line with the policy, I have phoned home and sent letters I have sent their names to the SLT mentor’s. But these kids are just not responding.”
HT : “Hmmm But you do realise that these seven kids make the difference for the whole school don’t you, so what can you really do about it?”
If you fancy a more detailed read about this specific effect you can read about it here, I have dubbed it the “What are you doing about it?” effect. But to cut a longer story short what inevitably happens in some schools, is that the classroom teacher or the Welsh Bacc coordinator, is pressurised into making the required evidence appear despite this being against the rules.
I have seen colleagues managed out through capability because they have refused to capitulate. I have seen schools take kids off timetable for a week and sit them with an LSA who dictates exactly what must be typed and the child robotically types out what is being said. I have even seen teachers fabricating entire samples. To deny this happens is folly, and accepting it as a truth, does not mean that you are somehow making it happen either, nor that you are doing that yourself or that you agree in any way shape or form. It is just indicative of what happens in regimes of accountability. Please be clear here I am not attacking qualifications that have coursework, my personal feelings are hugely in favor of project based approaches. After all, work in the world is project work (and a nifty by product of education is it gives kids knowledge to make them better workers). But to try to deny that in an era and environment of increased accountability, that all schools will be adverse to cheating is ridiculous.
The Welsh Bacc is sucking valuable time and energy from what should be a rich subject specific curriculum and is replacing it with a haphazard collection of poorly understood, undefined skills delivered by overworked, ill prepared and stressed out teachers, some of whom can see through the transparency but are wholly unable to make their voices heard. It has been designed in conjunction with corporate interests with the sole purpose of preparing students for a world of work that does not exist in some of the poorest wards in Europe. The argument of how best to prepare students for work has raged my entire life, a constant flimflam of apprenticeships, YTS and prep for work that goes right back to the slave trade. Ask yourself what has remained constant throughout all of that time? Knowledge that’s what.
Time in school is exceptionally valuable, we have a small window of opportunity in order to light a flame of life long learning inside our students. I argue that in KS4 we owe our students a rich diet of knowledge delivered by subject experts who have passion for the subject they studied for three years in university, all whom share a true belief that their subject is the difference. That the love of a subject will transform a students life.
I feel the need to also add that my opinions on the qualification bear no resemblance to my classroom practice. I act with consummate professionalism and teach every aspect of what I am asked to with my best available effort. This is not about me, this is about a qualification which does not have students best interests at it’s heart in my opinion. So if all you have to offer is unfounded allegations and Ad hominem attacks then I politely ask that you go forth and multiply.
If any one would like to challenge any of the central points I have made that is fantastic. I am always up for changing my mind and welcome reasoned debate. I would love for you to change my mind on this because at the moment, in my opinion, tens of thousands of kids are having their education harmed by the governments blind faith in this flagship qualification.