A-levels and T Levels will be scrapped, Rishi Sunak announces at Conservative Party conference

The Prime Minister has said all students will study some form of English and maths until the age of 18, in a huge shake-up to the UK’s education system.
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A-levels and T Levels will be scrapped and replaced with a different qualification, Rishi Sunak has announced.

The Prime Minister unveiled the huge education system shake-up whilst speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, explaining that the government will create a new school-leaver model called the “Advanced British Standard”.

This, he said, would “bring together A-levels and T Levels into a new, single qualification”, and would see students study more subjects after the age of 16. “Some form of English and maths” would also become compulsory until 18 - in a model similar to the International Baccalaureate (IB), which some pupils in the UK already take.

The Tory MP claimed the change would “finally deliver on the promise of parity of esteem between academic and technical education.” He also said that his “main priority in every spending review from now on” would be education.

Sunak previously announced his intention to have all teenagers in England study some form of maths until the age of 18, saying there was a need to “reimagine our approach to numeracy” and tackle “a cultural sense that it’s okay to be bad at maths”.

Concerns have already been raised by some in response to the announcement, with experts arguing the move could cause further disruption for a generation of children who have already had to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, teacher strikes, and, more recently, worries that their school buildings could collapse due to crumbly concrete - RAAC.

The Prime Minister has unveiled plans to scrap A-levels in a huge shake-up to the UK’s education system. Credit: Carl Court/Getty ImagesThe Prime Minister has unveiled plans to scrap A-levels in a huge shake-up to the UK’s education system. Credit: Carl Court/Getty Images
The Prime Minister has unveiled plans to scrap A-levels in a huge shake-up to the UK’s education system. Credit: Carl Court/Getty Images

Baz Ramaiah, head of policy at the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY), told National World: “The Prime Minister is right to want to broaden young people’s curriculum post-16, but this is the wrong time to do it. In the midst of the crises facing our education systems – from particularly poor teacher recruitment and retention, to the mental health crisis among pupils – it does not seem like qualification reform is a good use of resources.”

He added that research by the CfEY shows that if the government wants to improve the literacy and numeracy of school leavers, “they would be better to invest in children at the start of their school career rather than at the end of it.”

Others suggested the reform could be a good move, however, with Lauren Wakeling, manager at learning and training platform CoursesOnline, suggesting it could result in “a more talented and better-prepared workforce in the long run” - especially considering it’s a model similar to those adopted by other countries.

She told NationalWorld: “These changes are undoubtedly a bold proposal, but not unsurprising given that the current system is far from perfect, as evidenced by the skills gaps amongst school leavers who frequently have to resort to other learning methods in order to bring their knowledge up to the required level.”

Where the government should be “careful” however, Ms Wakeling added, is when it comes to “overloading students with too many mandatory subjects”. She explained: “Preparing for such crucial exams is already something that many find tricky and there’s the real risk that they will find themselves spread too thinly.”

She also argued that more information needs to be provided for pupils who have obtained or are studying for their T Levels, given that the qualification was only recently introduced.

The Education Policy Institute echoed thoughts about more information being needed, with David Robinson, director for post-16 and skills, commenting: “We welcome the government’s aspiration for a broader post-16 curriculum.

“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.

“However, much more detail is needed and the government must work closely with the sector before rushing through any new reforms.

“In particular, 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.”

He also argued that efforts to improve numeracy and literacy should be focused on improving outcomes in primary education, and that in order for the government to “realise the ambition for at least 195 hours more teaching a year per pupil, significant progress in teacher recruitment and retention will be needed.”

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