Post-16 students to study more subjects under ‘Advanced British Standard’ – PM
Rishi Sunak has unveiled major reforms to the post-16 education system in his party conference speech.
The Government will introduce a single qualification “the Advanced British Standard” bringing together A-levels and T-levels, the Prime Minister has said.
Rishi Sunak said students will typically study five subjects rather than three under the planned shake-up of the post-16 education system in England.
The reforms would see all pupils study some form of English and mathematics until the age of 18.
But education unions have warned that the Prime Minister’s plans – which are expected to take around a decade to deliver in full – are “pie in the sky” and “are likely to prove a pipe dream” due to teacher shortages.
Under the plans for the new baccalaureate-style qualification, 16 to 19-year-olds would take a larger number of subjects at both “major” and “minor” level, with most studying a minimum of five subjects at different levels.
The Advanced British Standard would bring together “the best” of academic A-levels and T-levels – the Government’s flagship technical qualification introduced in 2020 – into a new, single qualification.
Pupils starting primary school this term were expected to be the first cohort to take the new qualification – and once fully rolled out, the Advanced British Standard would replace A-levels and T-levels, No 10 said.
Mr Sunak told the Conservative Party conference: “We will introduce the new rigorous, knowledge-rich Advanced British Standard, which will bring together A-levels and T-levels into a new single qualification for our school leavers.”
The Prime Minister added that students in sixth forms and colleges would spend more time in the classroom under the Advanced British Standard.
The Government plans to increase the number of taught hours for all post-16 students to at least 1,475 over two years – an extra 195 hours for most students (the equivalent to two-and-a-half hours per week).
Mr Sunak told the conference: “First, this will finally deliver on the promise of parity of esteem between academic and technical education, because all students will sit the Advanced British Standard.
“Second, we will raise the floor ensuring that our children leave school literate and numerate because with the Advanced British Standard all students will study some form of maths and English to 18 with extra help for those who struggle most. In our country, no child should be left behind.”
He added: “A-level students generally only do three subjects compared to the seven studied by our economic competitors.
“The Advanced British Standard will change that too, with students typically studying five subjects and thanks to the extra teaching time we are introducing, the great breadth won’t come at the expense of depth which is such a strength of our system.”
The Prime Minister has announced an initial investment of £600 million over two years to lay the groundwork for delivering the Advanced British Standard.
This will include funding for tax-free bonuses of up to £30,000 over the first five years of their career for teachers in key shortage subjects.
A consultation on how to implement the qualification will open this autumn.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “We will create a new qualification that places equal value on technical and academic knowledge and skills by harnessing the best parts of both A-levels and T-levels.
“Under this qualification, known as the Advanced British Standard, students will be able to take a mix of technical and academic subjects, giving them a greater degree of flexibility over their future career options.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “While the principles of these proposals are good, the practicalities are daunting because of the severity of the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.”
He added: “We’re not convinced that the Prime Minister’s plan for an early career bonus payment for teachers in key shortage subjects in schools and colleges will be anywhere near enough.
“Teacher shortages are widespread and very problematic in many subjects. This problem requires a much broader strategy to improve pay, conditions and education funding.
“Without this commitment, the Prime Minister’s plans for an Advanced British Standard are likely to prove a pipe dream.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “To date, there has been no meaningful engagement with the profession on any part of this announcement.
“Whilst the Government may suggest that this is just the start of a process towards further reform, it would appear they have already decided on the destination without talking to school leaders.”
He added: “The announcement raises so many questions, most importantly where all the additional teachers needed to deliver these reforms will come from.”
Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “Rishi Sunak is doubling down on pie-in-the-sky education policies. He is completely out of touch with reality.”
He added: “There is no magic wand to create English and maths teachers in sufficient numbers to educate 11 to 16-year-olds, let alone at A-level too.”
David Robinson, director for post-16 and skills at the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank, said: “We are concerned that yet another overhaul of post-16 qualifications will cause further uncertainty and disruption for a further education sector only just adapting to the introduction of T-levels, now set to be largely mothballed before even being fully implemented.”