New qualifications to deliver world class education for all

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  • The new Advanced British Standard will put technical and academic education on an equal footing

  • Every student will study some form of maths and English to age 18

  • Initial £600m funding boost for schools and colleges to support teacher recruitment and retention and help more students pass maths and English GCSE

A new qualification for 16-19 year olds will put technical and academic education on an equal footing and ensure that all young people leave school knowing the basics in maths and English, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced. 

The new Advanced British Standard will bring together the best of A Levels and T Levels into a single new qualification. Students will take a larger number of subjects at both ‘major’ and ‘minor’level, with most studying a minimum of five subjects at different levels – for example, three majors alongside two minors. Importantly, students will have the freedom to take a mix of technical and academic subjects, giving them more flexibility over their future career options. 

Currently, most A Level students study only three subjects between the ages of 16 and 19 compared to the OECD average of seven. This is despite evidence showing that employers increasingly value students with a wider knowledge base.   

The Government has already made huge progress since 2010 to raise standards in schools and support high-quality teaching. Our 9 and 10-year-olds are now the best in the West at reading, ahead of other major developed economies like France, Germany and Spain. Over 88% of schools are good or outstanding, up from just 68% when this government came into office. This is all underpinned by record investment – the highest ever by any government in real terms – funding more teachers than at any other point in our history. Today’s announcement will ensure that we build on this success and address the challenges in post-16 education which have persisted for generations.  

Under the new plans, every student will for the first time be required to study some form of maths and English to age 18. This will help reverse the long-term trend whereby too many students – particularly the most disadvantaged – leave school without achieving the minimum standard in literacy and numeracy. This change will bring England into line with other major western economies such as France, Germany, Japan and the USA. 

Students will also spend more time in the classroom, increasing taught hours to a minimum of 1,475 hours over two years. Currently, a typical A Level student in England studying three subjects is taught for 1,280 hours over two years, and a typical technical student for 1,000 hours. This is significantly lower than Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway, all of whom deliver over 1,600 hours. Children in Italy are taught for over 1,700 hours, and in France and many US states they get over 2,000 hours in the classroom.

Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said: 

Education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet – it is the best economic policy, the best social policy and the best moral policy. That is why I am proud this government has made huge progress raising standards in our schools and supporting high-quality teaching.  

We now need to build on this record by transforming post-16 education. The plan we have set out today – backed by an initial £600 million of new support – represents real, meaningful reform that will put technical and academic education on an equal footing and ensure that all young people leave school or college knowing the basics in maths and English.  

The new Advanced British Standard will help spread opportunity and benefit students for generations to come, demonstrating our clear commitment to make the right decisions for the long-term future of our country. 

The Prime Minister has been clear that the Advanced British Standard is a long-term reform that will take time to get right and extra funding to deliver effectively. The change will be introduced in close consultation with parents, pupils and teachers. Pupils starting primary school this term are expected to be the first cohort to take the new qualification. Once fully rolled out, the Advanced British Standard will replace A Levels and T Levels but retain their rigorous content and quality.

The Prime Minister has today 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 a tax-free bonus of up to £30,000 over the first five years of their career for teachers in key shortage subjects, with FE colleges set to the benefit the most, and new investment to promote the highly successful teaching for mastery in maths methods.

As part of this funding boost and reflecting the fact that one in four students do not get the minimum standard in both English and maths GCSE by 19 – a figure which rises to two in five for disadvantaged pupils – we are also significantly increasing funding for 16-19 year olds who haven’t yet met the standard. To support all pupils in maths, pioneering Maths Hubs and the digital platform for tutoring in Core Maths will also be extended. 

A consultation will open this autumn and it will seek to determine how best to design and implement the Advanced British Standard. The Government is committed to working closely with stakeholders across the sector to deliver this important reform in the most effective way possible.  

Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, said: 

The Advanced British Standard will transform post-16 education so that every child, wherever they live, wherever they come from, receives an education that sets them up for success.

I know from my own experience how important it is to break down the barriers between academic and technical routes. These reforms will provide pupils with a broad and world class education, drawing on the best of our existing qualifications.

Today’s investment will bring more teachers in to key subjects and I now want to work closely with teachers, parents and the profession to deliver change in the best way possible. The prize on offer is too great to miss out on; a country where every young person is equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to reach their potential and live a happy and fulfilling life.

Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb, said:

Driving up standards in our schools has been this Government’s long-term priority. From phonics to free schools, we have followed the evidence and challenged the progressive teaching methods that were failing too many children. Now we are seeing the results: we have the best primary-age readers in the Western world and performance in science, maths and writing is improving.

The Advanced British Standard will build on our successful reforms by harnessing the best of our knowledge-rich A Levels and skills-based T Levels to create our new, rigorous post-16 system. It will offer increased breadth while maintaining depth and rigour and ensuring everyone is supported to achieve the basics in English and maths.

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon, said: 

This Government has championed technical education and driven up standards in schools. We have delivered 5.5 million apprenticeships, are rolling out the Lifelong Learning Entitlement and have pioneered our high-quality T Levels. Now we must take the next step to deliver the long-term reform that is needed in our 16-19 system.

Our new Advanced British Standard will raise the floor and extend the ladder of opportunity for everyone, backed up by an initial £600 million, providing more breadth, more technical education, and more teaching time so that all our children are given the brighter future they deserve.

Sir Michael Barber, Chancellor of Exeter University and Education Expert, said:

This sets us on a path to match the best in the world on technical and vocational education over the next decade. The emphasis on English and Maths and the substantial down payment are welcome steps forward.

Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

The proposed English baccalaureate is a major step which will significantly improve social mobility. Under the current A Levels system, young people are forced to specialise far too early. This impacts disadvantaged youngsters the most, as they are less likely to have access to good careers guidance or advice from family members.  

They are also much less likely to gain knowledge outside of their A level courses. For those who aspire to university, it means they are making choices that can limit their options at age 15, and many also leave school lacking functional maths and English skills. While there is much still to be worked out, the English baccalaureate is a very positive step for improving social mobility.

Professor Becky Francis CBE, Chief Executive of the EEF, said:

We know that post-16 education is our ‘last chance’ to minimise socio-economic attainment gaps before most young people leave the education system. We also know how important it is for future life chances to achieve a good level of Maths and English.

For us, finding better ways to support teaching and learning in the post-16 space is a crucial part of this.

So it’s great the government has recognised this by investing £40m to grow the evidence base. Through this funding, we’ll be able to build our work in this area by finding new evidence of effective practice, and putting that to work in the sector.

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