The British government is proposing a new qualification for 16-19 year olds called the Advanced British Standard (ABS). It combines academic and technical options, with students taking five subjects over two years (in the academic pathway) which include some core learning in English and maths. This is a long-term plan and may be affected by future governments but DfE has embarked on a major consultative exercise. 

GuildHE submitted a response to the consultation and we highlighted the following key points:

  • We don’t think forcing young people to continue to take distinctive English and Maths qualifications offers enough breadth of choice. Instead, we’d like to see English and Maths competencies embedded into the subjects young people want to study. We’re also concerned that young people who don’t successfully obtain a Grade 4 at GCSE will be disenfranchised if they are forced to continually retake the exam.
  • We are concerned that there are not enough teachers or resources in schools to support wider student choice. Without significant investment, we are concerned that only some schools will be able to offer students genuine choices. 
  • Bringing back continual assessment would be advantageous. Not only do varied assessment tasks (presentations, essays and exams) better mimic real-life skills, but they would also support a more robust approach to university admissions as the sector would be less reliant on predicted grades. 
  • Creative subjects are a core pillar of a well-rounded educational experience – drawing on the importance of creative skills to everyone in the economy, not just for our world-leading and hugely successful creative industries and we would like to see a clear commitment to increase creative skills to 18. The removal of creative subjects in Progress/Attainment 8 and the eBacc has led to a significant decline in the delivery of these important subjects due to school resource prioritisation.
  • Government should be careful that the reconciliation of qualifications at a school level does not have adverse effects on qualifications offered to adults who need to upskill/retrain. 
  • We don’t see the value in an overall ABS award. Both HE providers and employers are concerned with the subjects studied and the grades for each to make decisions on skills and competencies. 
  • We think it is vital for the curriculum to take more time to teach young people about life skills including resilience, good mental health & wellbeing, relationships and financial management.

It is unclear from the proposals as to the extent of the ambitions of reforms to the school system. The proposals could be seen as just a rebranding of the current approach but adding mandatory maths and English – or reverting back to the previous system of AS and A Levels, rather than a more ambitious opportunity to consider the knowledge, skills and expertise that young people need to prepare them for life, and the best way to deliver this through the number of subjects taught and the level at which they are taught.

We look forward to working with DfE to develop these proposals.