Rishi Sunak has announced plans to replace current post-16 qualifications with a new system, leaving many wondering when A-Levels with be scrapped.
Taking to the stage at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has revealed plans to replace A-Levels with a new qualification called the Advanced British Standard. The proposed change will see students study a wider variety of subjects post-16, plus the compulsory study of English and Maths until 18.
The move has been criticised by education professionals, who argue that the policy overlooks current crises - such as teacher recruitment and retention - in much the same way the mobile phone ban in schools has also been the subject of criticism.
For teachers, parents and students alike, the new proposals have thrown up a lot of questions about how AS and A-Levels will be affected, because while the Advanced British Standard is a complete replacement for the current qualifications, the change is still a long way off. Here's when you can expect A-Levels to be scrapped, and everything else we know so far about the Advanced British Standard.
When will A-Levels be scrapped?
We don't have a date for when A-Levels will be scrapped yet, and it is likely to be at least 10 years in the future. It will be years before the new qualification is ready and in place, so the first students to take it will be those currently starting primary school.
The government will launch a consultation this autumn before publishing a white paper on how the Advanced British Standard will come into force, but, for the moment, current post-16 students will continue to have the option of A-levels and T-Levels.
1/ We’re creating a new, combined single qualification. The Advanced British Standard brings together the very best of A levels and T levels.This is a long-term reform that will take time to get right and extra funding to deliver.No child will be left behind, here’s how🧵👇 pic.twitter.com/QRSLiSJAqBOctober 4, 2023
In a speech announcing the change to the Conservative Party Conference, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: "Our 16 to 19-year-olds spend around a third less time in the classroom than some of our competitors. We must change this, so with our Advanced British Standard, students will spend at least 195 hours more with a teacher."
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."
However, not everyone is on board with the planned changes. Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "Today’s announcement shows just how out of touch this government has become with the teaching profession. There are so many immediate crises that schools are currently dealing with, from recruitment and retention to crumbling school buildings and the lack of support for pupils with SEND [special educational needs and disability]. The government should be focusing on fixing those, not announcing yet another round of seismic changes to exams and qualifications."
He added, "Once again, there is a sense that ministers in Whitehall think they know better than the teachers and leaders working with pupils on a daily basis."
It's important to note that education policy in the UK is devolved, so the changes only apply to England - raising questions among the general public around the inclusion of 'British' in the new qualification's title.
A new qualification in England is to be called the "Advanced British Standard". It's becoming tiresome when even the prime minister is conflating Britain and England, and is seemingly oblivious to Scotland having an entirely distinct education system. https://t.co/12FSJ9bl9EOctober 4, 2023
What will replace A-Levels?
A-Levels are set to be replaced by a new qualification called the Advanced British Standard. The new baccalaureate-style qualification will bring together academic A-levels and vocational T-levels into a single new qualification.
Setting out the reason for the change, documents from the Department for Education explain that 16-19 year-olds in the UK have far fewer hours of teaching than those in other countries, "which particularly hurts the most disadvantaged students who have fewer resources for independent study."
They add that current post-16 students, "study a much narrower range of subjects than their international counterparts – which will not prepare them as well for a world that demands breadth and agility."
Meanwhile, education secretary Gillian Keegan has said, "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."
However, union members and education professionals are concerned about the practicality of the proposed change. Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton 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, "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."
History lesson: In 2005, worried about the gap between academic & vocational qualifications, the Labour government developed a shiny new Diploma. It didn't work. The Coalition scrapped it in 2013. Lesson: qualification reform needs care, not rhetoric.https://t.co/iRFWPicG2H pic.twitter.com/dxHLyU4AGwOctober 4, 2023
However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said more teachers would be recruited to help with implementing the Advanced British Standard.
"In order to attract and retain more teachers, those who teach key subjects in schools - and, for the first time, in our further-education colleges too - will receive special bonuses of up to £30,000, tax-free, over the first five years of their career," he said.
"Our teachers do one of the most valuable jobs in our society and we should reward them for that."
What is the Advanced British Standard?
As part of the Advanced British Standard, all 16 to 19-year-olds will typically study five subjects - including some English and Maths up to the age of 18 - in a similar fashion to the International Baccalaureate (IB), which some pupils in the UK already take.
The five subjects will be divided into US-style 'majors' and 'minors', with pupils studying three 'major' subjects and two 'minors'.
According to government documents, the key changes that will come as a result of adopting the Advanced British Standard include:
- More teaching hours
- A broader curriculum up to 18
- Maths and English studied to 18
- Equal choice between technical and academic subjects
- A simpler and more straightforward choice to make at 16
No more rip-off degrees.No more low aspiration.No more denigration of technical education.Just the best education system in the western world.A brilliant speech by @RishiSunak. We're delivering the long-term reforms to secure a brighter future for our children. pic.twitter.com/6Bca53xOhHOctober 4, 2023
What subjects does the Advanced British Standard include?
The full list of subjects that will be on offer is yet to be published, but a government breakdown says students will take:
- A common core: Meaning English and Maths at either major or minor level.
- A choice of academic and technical subjects: Students will choose their other subjects from 'traditional' options such as sciences, humanities and modern languages, as well as 'technical' options such as business and media studies.
- Non-qualification time: Students will also "continue to benefit from enrichment, pastoral, and employability activities" offered at school, while some will partake in industrial placements.
When will the Advanced British Standard start?
The Advanced British Standard won't come into force until the mid to late 2030s, according to documents from the Department for Education, which said the qualification "will take a decade to deliver".
This means that children who are currently in primary school will be the first to sit the new qualification.
If you've got school-age children, we've got loads of helpful information for parents on our Back to School Month page. From settling in ideas and tips for handling the 'Sunday Scaries' to advice on navigating packed lunches and supporting your child through A-levels, there's something for parents of all age groups.
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Ellie is Goodto’s Feature Editor, having joined the team as a Junior Features Writer in 2022, and covers everything from wellbeing for parents to the latest TV and entertainment. Ellie has covered all the latest trends in the parenting world, including baby names, parenting hacks, and foodie tips for busy families. She has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University, and previously Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies.
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