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Sunak Considering ‘British Baccalaureate’ A-Level Reforms: Sector Response

This article delves into the considered ‘British Baccalaureate’ A-Level reforms and presents comments from leaders in the Further Education sector, offering insights into their opinions on these considered changes.

Rishi Sunak is said to be planning to establish a ‘British Baccalaureate’ in which pupils would study more subjects after the age of 16. The proposals include English and maths becoming compulsory up until the age of 18, the Times said.

EPI says Funding and recruitment issues must be addressed for the proposed government overhaul of A-Level system to succeed.

Sector Response

David Robinson, Director for Post 16 and Skills at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:

“The education that sixth form and college students receive in England is narrower than in most developed countries. EPI research has shown that curriculum breadth narrowed further during the last decade, despite there being career benefits for those students who study a broader range of subjects. Therefore, steps to broaden the curriculum are encouraging.”

“However, for any reforms to be successful the government must address the funding and recruitment issues faced by sixth forms and colleges. A broader curriculum will require more teaching hours and more teachers. Yet, since 2010 funding for students aged 16-18 has lagged behind funding for younger students and those in higher education, leading colleges to suffer from a vacancy rate of over 5%, far higher than in schools.

“Furthermore, only half of students study A levels, with the other half largely taking applied or vocational alternatives or lower level qualifications. These students must not be neglected in any efforts to increase the breadth of the post-16 curriculum.”

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

“There is merit in looking at increasing subject breadth in post-16 education, but the idea of a ‘British Baccalaureate’ is no more than a sketchy slogan, with the Prime Minister’s rehashed plan for compulsory maths until the age of 18 bolted on.

“Would the British Baccalaureate replace A-levels, T-levels, BTECs, and existing functional skills qualifications, incorporate them, or be layered on top of them?

“The government has spent a fortune on introducing T-levels – a highly-specialised qualification which fills the timetable on its own. It is difficult to see how this could then be incorporated into a British Baccalaureate.

“There has been no discussion with the education sector about this idea and without any detail of what is being proposed it is a policy which is largely meaningless.”

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“The Prime Minister’s sketchy proposal to introduce a British baccalaureate shows that this is a government completely out of touch with the realities on the ground. Once again, he has failed to recognise that we have a deep teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

“The government has not recruited or retained sufficient English and maths teachers to educate 11-to-16-year-olds. One in six English teachers and one in five maths teachers do not have a relevant post-A-level qualification. This already parlous situation will deteriorate because last year the Government missed their recruitment target for secondary teachers by 41%, and this year they will only recruit half the necessary number of graduates to train as secondary teachers.

“We need a government that attends above all to the problems that are driving education into crisis. Yet again an education policy announcement has come via a back-of-the-envelope plan from Number 10 with no discussion at the Department for Education with the unions and profession. Any reforms need to be done in consultation with the education sector to avoid yet more unworkable or inadequate policy being dreamt up as a result of no input from the profession”

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