Advanced British Standard - when will A-levels & T Levels be scrapped? Sunak's education shake-up plans

Here’s everything you need to know about the Advanced British Standard - what it consists of, why Rishi Sunak wants to introduce it, and when A-levels and T Levels will be scrapped.
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Rishi Sunak has announced plans to scrap A-levels and T Levels, replacing them with a new school-leaver qualification called the “Advanced British Standard”.

The Prime Minister revealed the huge change to the education system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland whilst speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, where he also unveiled plans to ban smoking for the next generation - and finally confirmed his controversial decision to scrap the HS2 leg between Birmingham and Manchester.

Explaining the new teaching model, Sunak said that students will typically study five subjects once they reach sixth-form - instead of the current three. “Some form of” English and maths will also be compulsory until the age of 18, in a similar fashion to the International Baccalaureate (IB), which some pupils in the UK already take.

The Tory MP said: “Our 16 to 19-year-olds spend around one 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.

“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.”

He also looked to allay fears about the impacts studying extra subjects might have, remarking: “Thanks to the extra teaching time, the breadth won’t come at the expense of depth, which is such a strength of our system.”

But what exactly does it all mean in practice? What will the reality be for teenagers studying the Advanced British Standard and what will it consist of? And perhaps most pressingly, when will this all happen - which year groups will it affect? Here’s everything we know so far.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paints a bee during a visit to the Busy Bees nursery in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, on August 21, 2023. (Photo by Danny Lawson / POOL / AFP) (Photo by DANNY LAWSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paints a bee during a visit to the Busy Bees nursery in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, on August 21, 2023. (Photo by Danny Lawson / POOL / AFP) (Photo by DANNY LAWSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paints a bee during a visit to the Busy Bees nursery in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, on August 21, 2023. (Photo by Danny Lawson / POOL / AFP) (Photo by DANNY LAWSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

What is the Advanced British Standard?

According to government documents published after the Prime Minister’s speech, the Advanced British Standard is a “Baccalaureate-style qualification for 16-19 year-olds” which will take “the best of A-levels and T-levels” and merge them into a “new, single qualification.”

This will require students to study both maths and English “in some form” until the age of 18. They will have the option of studying a “major” in these subjects, which will be a more in-depth and more advanced level of study, or a “minor”, which will provide a more basic understanding of the subjects - but offer young people “the core of knowledge and skills that they need to succeed in life and work.”

Students will also study more subjects - typically a minimum of five, but those choosing to “focus on a specific occupation” could take a minimum of four, while others will be allowed to take six or seven if they choose.

Other changes include the amount of teaching time pupils will receive. Sunak said teenagers will spend an extra 195 hours in the classroom - which equates to 15% more teaching time - which he said will enable them to take on the additional subjects.

Why is it being introduced?

The government has said that the Advanced British Standard “will create a system that is accessible but stretching for all students, delivering genuine parity across the technical and academic landscape.”

They said that studying more subjects will help ensure students leave school “well-rounded and well-prepared for university, further education, an apprenticeship, or employment”. Sunak also suggested it will stand the country in better stead when compared to international competitors, where some pupils study up to seven subjects under the International Baccalaureate (IB).

As for making English and maths compulsory, ministers have argued that currently, too many students - particularly the most disadvantaged – leave education “without a clear grasp of the basic skills needed to fulfil their potential”.

Government documents say: “Numeracy and literacy both have strong links to wage returns, but also, more fundamentally, both are integral to connected, engaged, fulfilling lives – linked to everything from the ease of developing future interests to ability to identify misinformation.”

What subjects can pupils study?

There is no full list yet of the subjects that will be on offer, but a government breakdown says students will take:

  • ‘a common core’ - a.k.a, English and maths at either major or minor level
  • ‘a choice of academic and technical subjects’ - this is where students will choose their other subjects from, with ‘traditional’ options such as modern languages, sciences and humanities available, as well as more ‘technical’ options such as business, media, or engineering
  • ‘non-qualification time’ - outside of subject choices, students will also “continue to benefit from enrichment, pastoral, and employability activities” offered at school, while some will partake in industrial placements in their chosen profession

When will Advanced British Standard be introduced?

The changes all sound pretty monumental, but because of that, they won’t actually happen for a long time. In the government’s document on the Advanced British Standard, it says: “This is a long term reform: it will take a decade to deliver in full.”

If this is the case, we could see the new system come into force around 2033, meaning children currently in Year 1 or Year 2 would be the first affected. However, things like this usually take longer than initially planned - and the Department for Education admitted to the Daily Mirror that it likely wouldn’t happen until the late 2030s.

In the meantime, A-levels and T Levels will remain in place, but new T Levels will continue to roll out as “they will provide the technical options for the Advanced British Standard”, the government said.

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