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Advanced British Standard

Volume 738: debated on Monday 16 October 2023

The Prime Minister has announced that we will introduce the advanced British standard (ABS) for 16 to 19-year-olds. This will bring together the best of A-levels and T-levels to form a single, overarching qualification. The advanced British standard will remove the artificial choice between academic and technical education, placing them on an equal footing, presenting a clear offer to young people while ensuring that every student studies some form of maths and English to age 18.

Since 2010, we have transformed the education children receive. We have relentlessly focused on improving the quality of our knowledge-rich curriculum and qualifications and have put in place the measures to raise standards. Eighty-eight per cent of schools are now rated good or outstanding and, thanks to our phonics reforms, we now have the best primary readers in the western world. We have introduced T-levels as new, high-quality technical routes for young people and reformed apprenticeships to raise their quality and prestige.

We now need to ensure that our 16 to 19 education system is fit for the long term and aligns England with countries across the OECD in terms of teaching time, breadth of study and parity between technical and academic routes. For example, young people in OECD countries typically study seven subjects post-16 compared to students in England who study around three. Students in OECD countries also generally receive more teaching time and study maths and their native language up to 18. We will align with some of our international competitors by increasing teaching time and bringing academic and technical pathways together into a single qualification with full parity of esteem. Within this framework, students will be able to study predominantly technical—including an occupational specialist route—or academic components, or a blend of both.

This reform draws upon the consistent principles that have underpinned our successful reforms by using the best available evidence, investing in teaching quality, and developing a knowledge-rich and broad curriculum. We will build on the knowledge-rich content and depth of A-levels and the high-quality, employer-led occupational standards of T-levels. The introduction of bigger and smaller subjects—called majors and minors—will give students greater breadth, while still maintaining depth of study in the subjects they are most passionate about and require for progression to higher education and employment. Students will typically choose five subjects, or a minimum of four if they are focused on preparing for a specific technical occupation. Given that we know that time with a good teacher is the single most important factor in improving learning outcomes, we will also increase the number of taught hours by 15% for most 16 to 19 students which will particularly benefit disadvantaged students.

This reform will take time and extra funding to deliver, including extra funding for the additional taught hours the advanced British standard will involve. We are providing £600 million over the next two years to lay the groundwork for the ABS and invest in the teachers and institutions that will be vital to delivering it. This comprises:

c.£100 million each year, doubling the rates of the levelling-up premium and expanding it to cover all further education (FE) colleges, disproportionately benefiting disadvantaged students. All teachers who are in the first five years of their career, teaching key STEM and technical shortage subjects and working in disadvantaged schools and all FE colleges, will be paid up to £6,000 per year tax-free.

c.£150 million each year to support those students who need the most support such as those who do not currently achieve a good pass—above grade 4—in maths and English GCSE at age 16. We will also invest in English and maths for all post-16 apprentices who have not gained their level 2 qualification, uplifting the funding rates to match the adult education budget.

c.£60 million over the next two years to expedite evidence-based techniques for maths teaching, including in post-16.

£40 million to the Education Endowment Foundation to expand its post-16 work and embed evidence-based approaches in 16 to 19 teaching.

This is an ambitious, long-term reform programme which will take a decade to deliver in full and require careful development and partnership working with the sector. We will therefore consult extensively, and in detail, over the coming months on the design of the new qualification. The results of our consultation process will inform a White Paper, which we will publish next year setting out our plan for delivery.

Meanwhile, students preparing to take A-level and T-level exams over the coming years should not doubt the value of their qualifications and be confident that high quality pathways remain open to them. T-levels will be integral to the vocational route within the advanced British standard and more T-level courses will be rolled out.

The ABS will ensure that all young people receive an education that is of the highest quality and prepares them to enter the changing workplace where digital transformation, AI and net zero will drive productivity. We will raise the floor and extend the ladder of opportunity for everyone, providing more breadth, increased teaching time, and a greater focus on technical education.

That is how we will give our children the brighter future they deserve, by ensuring that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the modern economy.