Wales 42.2% ... Northern Ireland 34.5% ... England 26.8%

Last year, in this post, I wrote about how the the headline A Level figures for Wales did not include the Welsh Baccalaureate Advanced Diploma, which UCAS rate as the equivalent of an additional A Level at A grade for college and university admissions.

There were 4,360 WBac Advanced Diplomas awarded this summer, which is very healthy in comparison with the 2,564 who took maths A Level in Wales and 3,732 who took English. But of much more significance is the fact that the WBac pass rate was 81% ... so if it were to be counted as an A Level in the JCQ figures, it would push the Welsh grade figures up dramatically.

A total of 37,315 A Levels were taken in Wales this summer, with an A*-A pass rate of 25.0%. But if the WBac Core is added, the number taken rises by 5,383 to 42,698 and the A*-A pass rate rises to 9,329 + 4,360 = 13,689 = 32.1%

The combined A*-A pass rate for Wales, England and NI is 27.0% (Scotland takes different exams). For England alone the figure is 26.8% and for NI 35.7%.

Syniadau, 20 August 2010

This year, I hardly need to make the same point again, not least because Leighton Andrews has made it instead, and rather forcibly. As virtually no-one was making this point last year, I'll take it as a positive step forward. I'm glad someone reads this blog.


     Education Minister Leighton Andrews said the A-level results did not
     take into account the Welsh Baccalaureate – BBC, 19 August 2010

Leighton Andrews stopped short of saying that Welsh students outperformed those in England and Northern Ireland, so I think it would be worth doing the same calculation as I did last year to quantify just how much of a difference the Welsh Baccalaureate is making to our performance.

•  A total of 37,875 A Levels were taken in Wales this summer, with an A*-A pass rate of 24.4%. But if the WBac is added, the number taken rises by 8,318 to 46,193 and the A*-A pass rate rises to about 9,052 (23.9% of 37,875) + 6,948 = 16,000 = 42.2%

•  The combined A*-A pass rate for Wales, England and NI is 27.0% (Scotland takes different exams). For England alone the figure is 26.8% and for NI 34.5%.

It's worth noting that there has been a very large increase in the number of students taking the Welsh Baccalaureate advanced course. This year, there were 12,914 students in Year 13 in schools, but others would have taken it at sixth form colleges.

As I said last time, this isn't a totally accurate comparison because there are other alternatives to A Levels used as entry requirements to colleges and universities, most notably the International Baccalaureate. But that is only taken by a very small percentage of students, and is of course taken in Wales too, so it can only make a very small difference to these figures.

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Siônnyn said...

So the uptake of the Welsh Bac has risen in a year from 5,300 to 8,300? That is phenomenal!

Cairan Jenkins has been strutting the Twittersphere suggesting that he humilated Leighton Andrews with these figures. Time for the BBC to start looking for new education correspondent?

Glyndo said...

"which UCAS rate as the equivalent of an additional A Level at A grade for college and university admissions."

Not all Universities agree with them, do they?

Cai said...

From what I have seen the vast majority of Universities are accepting of the Welsh Baccalaureate and given the inherent conservative nature of these institutions that in itself is a major achievement.
You will always get people only too happy to knock the Welsh education system so it is good to see such good news being celebrated.

Lionel said...

god MH, thank heavens for your erudite insight into things(alongside Glyn beddau and Blogmenai), the world would drive one mental otherwise.
How straightforward is this? Any new qualification takes time, firstly to bed in within the existing system and secondly to be accepted as an equal and valid qualification alongside that which exists already.
We are still within this stage with the Bac. Cardiff Uni's attitude has admittedly not helped, but then who of us really considers Cardiff Uni, with its jumped up airs and graces to be a genuinely Welsh University, serving the Welsh nation - its loyalties lie elsewhere in my view. (Add to this most Welsh Unis to be fair)
Nevertheless, I fully support Leighton his endeavours to both push the standards forward and to embed the Bac into our "follow England" orientated education system here in Wales.
Let's face it, anything genuinely Welsh in origin, a la our usual Stockholm syndrome tendency is considered shit.If it originated in England then it must be good (we don't discuss Scotland or Ireland, or anywhere else come to that, as our sole benchmark in Wales is what happens in England, of 50 million people, 1 language, no Welsh Bac, generally conservative voting. So really great comparison - NOT)
I despair of the BBC, because sometimes you feel that they try to reflect contemporary Wales, and other times they fail spectacularly in the pursuit of a story without examining the facts. as in this case.
Bottom line: The foundation phase, 14-19 pathways and the Welsh Bac are not going to produce instant results. They are worth a shot - god help us, what isn't. And to bew honest, I'd rather be trying these initiatives out than privatising the education system as England are.
Final point: Are A Levels that good any more? Should we not be re-examining these antiquated qualifications? Again. Just because England like them, should we necessarily? Scotland manage,as do every other European country.
Keep going Leighton!

is vi

MH said...

It would be good if you could put some figures behind that sweeping statement, Glyndo. What we can say is that UCAS give the WBac Advanced Diploma a rating of 120 points, the same as an A grade. An A* is 140 points. But it's entirely up to universities and colleges to set their own standards of admission. The critical thing will be the subjects taken and how relevant they are to the particular course. I daresay that three B grades in maths, physics and chemistry are going to count more highly than four A* grades in history, music, media studies and drama if you want to do a science degree ... and vice-versa, of course.

But it is true to say that we are performing worse than other parts of the UK at A* grade, and this will be important for getting a place on some courses at some of the more competitive universities. That's something that does need to be addressed, but it is just one facet of a bigger picture. The bigger picture shows Wales in a very good light. This is the first time we've got ahead of Northern Ireland. As Lionel has reminded us, we tend to just compare ourselves with England, not noticing that Northern Ireland has had far better results for years.


I'd like to put something else into the equation. The number of A levels taken in Wales this year is actually higher than the number taken last year (the numbers in Year 13 have risen too, by just under 500, but the number is only a rough indication because of students taking A levels outside school or retaking them). However the number taking the WBac has risen by nearly 3,000, as Siônnyn says. This suggests that students are not taking the WBac instead of an A Level, but in addition to the A Levels they would take anyway. In other words we are producing better students with a more rounded education, though at the slight cost of A* grades.

As Lionel has said, A Levels are problematic. We have traditionally expected children to make a choice to specialize in just three subjects when they are fifteen or sixteen years old. But this means that other subjects have to be dropped, which is not good for a student's all-round education. To some extent, this greater focus on specialization in just a few subjects might explain why England and NI get more A* grades. It would be something worth looking at in more detail.

A Levels and the idea of specialization at young age were designed at a time when fewer than 5% went on to universities and colleges ... largely to provide us with students who would take their place in the key professions. That system does still produce the supply of students who will eventually become architects, doctors, scientists and engineers ... but isn't it important that people going into these professions can also, for example, speak another language or understand something about finance? We have over-focused on detail and lost breadth; which is especially important now because we are using the higher education system as preparation for most jobs rather than just a few key professions, and because more of us are likely to switch fields during our working careers than we did a few decades ago. The Baccalaureate model fosters a wider education, much more like that of other European countries. I think Wales has taken a huge step forward, in much the same way as we have with the Foundation Phase for young children. But time will tell.

MH said...

Reading Lionel's comment on privatization, another point has struck me. One of the reasons given for why Northern Ireland has done so much better is because they have retained selective secondary education. (They also have a division between Catholic and predominantly Protestant education too, but that's something else).

Equally, one of the features of English education is that it is more privatized, traditionally with independent schools and more recently with academies. These schools have much better A* and A grades than comprehensives. Independents get 18.1% A* and 50.8% A*-A grades. Academies get 8.7% A* and 28.1% A*-A grades. Comprehensives only get 5.9% A* and 20.9% A*-A grades. (From here, I think this is just for England, but I'm not sure.)

A feature of Welsh education is that we have far fewer independent schools, and a higher proportion of comprehensives, which for us are very much the norm. So, comparing comprehensive with comprehensive, even on A Levels alone (without the WBac) we do better than elsewhere.

So it could be said that we in Wales are making comprehensive education work far better than they do elsewhere. England are busily undoing the idea of comprehensive education and NI never embraced it in the first place. And this would fit well with the idea of trying to get something which is good for all our children, rather than just a few ... an idea which I think is much more fundamental to our way of thinking than in England and Northern Ireland. In saying this I'm not trying to make a "big point", it's just meant as an observation. What do others think?

glynbeddau said...

Even if we were to ignire the Welsh Baccalaureate . it needs to be pointed out that there are different Exam Boards in England Wales and Northern Ireland Wi the Majority in Northern Ireland using CCEA and WKEC being predominant in Wales..

Any comparison therefore should be between exam boards.

Even then the whole pass rate scenario has become ridiculous..

If the pass rate gors up then the media including the BBC will put forward the idea that exam are becoming to easy.

If the pass rate goes down then the media will accuse the government of failing standards.

Whatever the argument it seems to me because of this argument the syllabus now is about how to passs the end of year exam and not understanding the subject. Which ar not nutual.

Glyndo said...

19 August 2011 23:39
MH said...
"It would be good if you could put some figures behind that sweeping statement, Glyndo."

Not to be too pedantic, it was a question not a statement, sweeping or otherwise.

It was prompted by the report on BBC Wales news. They made the statement that the Welsh BAC was supposed to be the euiv of an A grade, but then stated that not all Unis accepted it as such. Cambridge and Birmingham were given as examples of ones that didn't.

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