Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is considering scrapping A-levels and replacing them with a “British baccalaureate” to widen the number of subjects students would have to study if they stay in school to 18, according to reports.
Currently, most students only study three to four subjects at A-level, but under the plans reported by The Times and the FT this would widen significantly, and make English and maths compulsory.
The scheme was first proposed by Mr Sunak during the 2022 Conservative leadership election, and the Prime Minister spoke in April about wanting all school pupils in England to study some form of maths until 18.
Mr Sunak said children risked being “left behind” in the jobs market without a solid foundation in maths.
He added a “cultural sense that it’s okay to be bad at maths” had left the UK as one of the least numerate countries in the world.
According to the FT, the Department for Education did not deny these proposals were being explored, but said it had already reformed post-16 education.
The Times says Mr Sunak hopes it will “open up a clear dividing line with Labour on education policy”.
Reacting to the reports, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said in a statement: “I think many parents hearing this will be saying: look, at the moment we don’t have enough maths teachers in our secondary schools. At the moment many schools are closed or not functioning properly because the roofs might fall in”.
Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said on X (formerly Twitter): “It’s not wrong to think the curriculum is too narrow for young people. But it’s narrow all the way through school. Opening up after 16 is too late for too many of our children: a gimmick, not a strategy”.
She added: “Like the crumbling schools and the teacher recruitment crisis, a narrow curriculum is the choice the Tories made. Less creativity, less enjoyment, less opportunity”.
The proposals come just a year after the first T-level qualifications were awarded, which offer those aged 16-18 a more technical qualification and enable students to directly enter employment after the programme. Subjects include healthcare science, construction, and digital production. It is unclear what Mr Sunak’s reported changes for A-levels would mean for T-levels.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the Guardian: “There is merit in looking at increasing subject breadth in post-16 education but the idea of a ‘British baccalaureate’ is no more than a sketchy slogan, with the prime minister’s rehashed plan for compulsory maths until the age of 18 bolted on”.
He added: “Would the British baccalaureate replace A-levels, T-levels, BTecs and existing functional skills qualifications, incorporate them, or be layered on top of them?”