From education to employment

Government takes first step towards introducing the Advanced British Standard

group of workers in office
  • Consultation launched to shape the development of the new Advanced British Standard as part of the Prime Minister’s priority to deliver a world-class education
  • The new baccalaureate style qualification will give young people the flexibility to choose from a single menu of high-quality subjects
  • Proposals built around more teaching time, greater breadth and a core of maths and English

Teachers, parents, young people and employers are all being invited to have their say on the development of the Government’s revolutionary new Advanced British Standard.

A consultation has been launched today (14 December) seeking views on the design of the Advanced British Standard.

The new baccalaureate style qualification is part of the Prime Minister’s pledge to provide every child with a world-class education and ensure all young people have the skills they need to get good jobs that will help grow the economy.

It will build on the success the government has made since 2010 to drive up standards in schools. Last week, the global PISA study showed that pupils in England have risen up the international rankings for maths, placing as one of the top performing countries in the western world.

At the heart of the proposals for the Advanced British Standard are an increase in teaching time of around 200 hours over the course of the qualification, greater breadth and choice for young people and a core focus on vital maths and English.

The Advanced British Standard will mean most students choose a minimum of five subjects from a menu of options to give more breadth and flexibility.

These subjects will be built on A levels and T Levels, retaining their rigour and focus on building knowledge. By increasing teaching time and the breadth of what students can study, including maths and English, the Advanced British Standard will widen students’ career options and bring England in line with major economies such as France, Germany, Japan and the USA.

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said:

“Education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet to transform life chances.

“That is why I am proud of our record as a government since 2010, with 89% of schools now rated good or outstanding and confirmation last week that we have risen up the international league tables for education, with England now among the highest performing western nations.

“I want to build on these successes and take the long-term decisions required to grow our economy, including delivering a world-class education system. 

“Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to introducing the new Advanced British Standard, which will put academic and technical education on an equal footing, ensure our education system is fit for the future and give all young people the skills they need to fulfil their potential”.

Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, said:

“The Advanced British Standard will end the artificial divide between academic and technical education, giving young people both the knowledge to move on to further study and the skills to compete for the best jobs in the world.

“Education is one of the great success stories of the past 13 years, with school standards and children’s prospects transformed, and a revolution in technical training but now is not the time to stand still. We must make sure the next generation of workers are equipped for the jobs of tomorrow, from green skills to advanced manufacturing.

“I encourage everyone to have their say on the development of the Advanced British Standard and help us get these transformational reforms right for business, right for education and, most importantly, right for young people.”

John Laramy CBE, Principal and Chief Executive, Exeter College:

“I welcome the overarching ambition of the Advanced British Standard and am reassured by the planned extensive consultation and the sensible, pragmatic timescale.

“There are three areas in particular that I feel will make a real difference to young people and ultimately to UK Plc. The increased teaching time, bringing us in line with other high performing nations; the wider curriculum to broaden horizons, thus giving more flexibility for future careers and finally, the increased focus on high-quality staff, which starts in earnest next year.

“The focus on staff has the potential to be a game changer, as we all know that no education system can be better than the quality of its people.”

Professor Chris Day CBE, Vice Chancellor of Newcastle University and Chair of the Russell Group said:

“We welcome the opportunity to work with the Government to help ensure the new Advanced British Standard is a success. Universities have an important role to play in its development – both through teacher training and the implications for university admissions. As the new qualification is developed, it is vital that the depth and rigour of subjects studied is maintained so students are set up for success in whatever they choose to do next.

“The introduction of the ABS will need to be supported by clear, comprehensive advice and guidance so young people can make informed choices about their futures and ensure there are clear and effective pathways available to them. Guidance for grading and admissions will also be essential for universities to ensure parity in admissions. As noted in the consultation, it will also be important for Government to focus closely on avoiding any negative impacts on the most disadvantaged students to ensure the new qualification works for all.”

A levels, T Levels as well as other high-quality qualifications will still be available to study until the Advanced British Standard is introduced.

Over the past decade the government has transformed skills training and there has been a sharp improvement in school standards. This includes 89% of schools being rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, up from just 68% in 2010, and England being ranked 11th in the world for maths and ‘best in the west’ for primary age reading out of a comparable 47 countries. 

To lay the groundwork for delivering the Advanced British Standard, £600 million will be invested over the next two years to support schools and colleges. This includes £100 million a year to attract and retain teachers in key STEM and technical shortage subjects, extending these payments to eligible FE teachers for the first time.  Eligible teachers will get up to £30,000 over 5 years after tax on top of their pay in the first five years of their career.

Over the next two years, £60 million will also be invested to turbo-charge maths teaching, as well as £300 million to support more young people to achieve an English or maths qualification by the time they leave school.

Under the Advance British Standard young people who may not be quite ready to study at Level 3 (A level or T Level equivalent) will also benefit from the same number of teaching hours, high quality qualifications and will study English and maths until 18. This will ensure all students can progress into work or further study and are provided with the solid foundation they need to thrive.

Plans for the Advanced British Standard were first announced by the Prime Minister in October. The launch of the consultation today kickstarts these transformative reforms, which are expected to take around 10 years to complete. 

Consultation responses will help inform the development of the Advanced British Standard. More detailed proposals and plans for delivery are expected to be set out in a White Paper next year.

The new Advanced British Standard will bring together the best of A levels and T Levels into a single new qualification framework. 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.

England has risen in most of the rankings. England was ranked 11th in maths, 13th in reading and 13th in science. This is compared to 17th, 14th and 13th respectively in 2018. However, there are caveats in these findings.

The main findings for England were:

  • England continues to perform significantly above the OECD averages in all three subjects.
  • England’s scores for reading and maths were significantly lower than 2018 but similar to previous years (2006-2015). While England’s score for science has not changed significantly compared to 2018, it was significantly lower than previous years.
  • The declines in maths, reading and science, both in England and in the OECD average, are primarily driven by decreases in scores of the lowest performers, while the highest performers’ scores remained stable.

Sector Response

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“NAHT supports the principles of parity between technical and academic qualifications, and of broadening the post-16 curriculum.

“However, NAHT members have raised particular concerns about whether the Advanced British Standard will provide a qualification offer which meets the needs of all students and the way in which this policy will affect students who are not working at the current level 3 standard of A levels or T levels.  We look forward to exploring the detail of the consultation to see if those concerns are allayed.

“Looking at post-16 qualifications in isolation from the rest of our education system shows a complete lack of understanding of the importance of a coherent system from early years to the end of Key Stage 5. Each step should support the next to enable our young people to achieve their ambitions, to be prepared for their lives outside of school, and to take their next steps in education, training or employment.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:

“This consultation brings a welcome focus on how we can help improve the life chances of every young person through investing in a stronger education system at age 16 to 19; a pivotal time in many peoples’ lives.

“Colleges do so much good work to support the transition to adulthood, but as this consultation recognises, they will be able to do even better with investment in more contact hours and a workforce to match. We support the ambition to open up a full menu of options for all at age 16 to help improve achievement at age 19 and progression into good jobs, further and higher education, and apprenticeships.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“We currently have a severe and deepening funding and teacher shortage crisis in education, and the government is preoccupied with introducing a new qualification which would take a decade to develop and will probably not happen at all. It is difficult to imagine a more pointless waste of energy and time.

“The government press release studiously avoids saying that the Advanced British Standard will replace A-levels and T-levels, although this is exactly what it would do. This is despite the fact that A-levels have long been considered a ‘gold standard’ and that T-levels are a flagship government policy and haven’t even been fully rolled out yet.

“This is truly a form of headless chicken policymaking”

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