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Over the next decade, the Government plans to introduce a new qualification framework for 16- to 19-year-olds in England called the Advanced British Standard (ABS). It has launched a consultation on its proposals that will inform a White Paper due to be published in summer 2024.

Consultation proposals

What will students study?

The Government’s intention is for the Advanced British Standard to combine and replace A Levels and T Levels with a new, single level 3 qualification at age 16. Apprenticeships will continue to be available for those looking to enter the workforce through ‘on-the-job’ training.

The Advanced British Standard would consist of:

  • All students studying English and maths at an appropriate level and depth.
  • A choice of academic and technical subjects that come in different sizes. These will be called ‘majors’ and ‘minors’, with most students studying three of the former and two of the latter. Students preparing for a technical occupation may also do an industry placement.
  • Non-qualification time, which would include employability, enrichment, and pastoral (EEP) activities.

Teaching time will be increased by 15% for most students (equivalent to an extra two and half hours per week) compared to a typical three-subject A Level study programme. Academic options will be based on A Levels while technical options will be based on both the content of T Levels and occupational standards designed by employers and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

Under the Advanced British Standard, students not able to progress straight into a level 3 programme might undertake a level 2 programme (equivalent to GCSE grades 3, 2, 1), such as a one-year transition programme.

How will students be assessed and graded?

Most subjects will be assessed through exams at the end of the course, but some non-examined assessment will be used where appropriate.

Students will receive individual grades for each major and minor (or equivalent) component they take at levels 2 and 3. The Government is also proposing an overall certificate or statement of achievement to be awarded to students who meet minimum attainment conditions by the end of their course of study. 

Costs

The Government is providing funding of £600 million over the next two years, largely focussed on boosting teacher recruitment and retention, to support the eventual introduction of the Advanced British Standard. This includes:

  • An investment of around £100 million a year to provide a tax-free bonus of up to £6,000 a year to all teachers in the first five years of their career teaching ‘key shortage subjects’ (such as maths, science, engineering, and digital subjects) in further education colleges and disadvantaged schools.
  • An additional £150 million will be made available each year to increase investment for students retaking English and maths GCSEs as part of their current 16 to 19 study programmes.
  • An additional £40 million will be invested in the Education Endowment Foundation.
  • Around £60 million of funding will be made available for maths education over the next two years.

The Government has not published a financial impact assessment of the Advanced British Standard, or any estimates of future additional costs of the reformed system.

Teacher salaries and recruitment are the most obvious extra costs needed to meet the expanded curriculum and increased teaching time. Additional costs could also relate to the introduction of a new curriculum, and costs linked to the increased number of students at school/college at any one time, such as more non-teaching staff and capital costs of new classrooms and other facilities.

Reaction

In December 2023, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Phillipson, said current teacher shortages made the Government’s plans for the Advanced British Standard unworkable. Phillipson said, if she was Education Secretary, reforming 16 to 19 education would not be a priority, and her focus would instead be on improving primary school provision.

The announcement of the Advanced British Standard has attracted a mix of praise and criticism from the education sector, with many commending the principles of the proposed reforms, but suggesting current issues, particularly with regards to teacher shortages, make it unrealistic.

Further information


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