Rishi Sunak’s English Baccalaureate: The Advanced British Standard

One of our writers discusses the changes Rishi Sunak prepares for the British education system.

Beth Davidson
24th October 2023
Rishi Sunak has a plan to overhaul the post-16 education system in Britain (or at least England, as education is devolved, which means that Sunak cannot enforce change in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland). The Prime Minister announced his first change – compulsory maths for students until they are 18. The policy that was criticised in many educational circles. Sunak has also made clear he intends to alter the provision of ‘rip-off’ degree programmes that he does not view as leading to commendable employment prospects.

The establishment of an English Baccalaureate is the latest policy shift, as Sunak aims to raise the quality of post-16 education in Britain, to compete with international standards. At the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Sunak asserted his plan to guarantee students leave school ‘literate and numerate’. The Advanced British Standard comes after the Times Education Commission recommended a new qualification in 2022, modelled on the International Baccalaureate (IB), to ensure students are studying a wider range of subjects, including ‘some form of maths and English.’

The Advanced British Standard would see a combination of A-levels and T-levels in a new qualification. Pupils would study a minimum of five subjects, instead of the standard three, to provide a ‘broader understanding’, ideally expanding the options open to students post-18. The qualification would also increase the number of hours a student would spend in a classroom with a teacher.

This has been criticised as potentially prohibiting students from accessing a particular university or achieving good enough UCAS points to gain a place on a course. For example, a student may excel in maths and science, yet struggle in the humanities. However, their overall grade on the Advanced British Standard would include their merits on all subject areas. As a result, the student then may not be able to gain a placement on a science course that accurately reflects their ability in that specific discipline.

This policy shift still remains in its infant stages. The Prime Minister has allowed for ten years until it will be enacted, rendering it unlikely unless Labour also take up the plan (as they are predicted to win the next General Election). It will also require more teachers; the Prime Minister announced a tax-free bonus of up to £30,000 for teachers in key subject areas in the first five years of their career, yet it is unclear where the funding for this will come from, and how successful it will be.

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