Government announces qualification reform

On Wednesday the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak announced a major reform of Post 16 qualifications in England. The Advanced British Standard (ABS) for 16-18 year olds will replace A and T level qualifications, bringing them together into a single qualification.

The Government said:

The new Advanced British Standard will bring together the best of A Levels and T Levels into a single new qualification. Students will take a larger number of subjects at both ‘major’ and ‘minor’level, with most studying a minimum of five subjects at different levels – for example, three majors alongside two minors. Importantly, students will have the freedom to take a mix of technical and academic subjects, giving them more flexibility over their future career options.  

The ABS will ensure technical and academic education are placed on an equal footing, with every student also studying some form of maths and English to age 18.

The announcement included an initial funding boost of £600 million over two years would be allocated to help to lay the groundwork for the Advanced British Standard. In his speech on Wednesday, the Prime Minister stated that this will include funding for a tax-free bonus of up to £30,000 over the first five years of their career for teachers in key shortage subjects. 

Today however, the DFE say that the tax free bonus will in fact be payments up to £6000 over the first five years – far short of what was announced by the Prime Minister.

These payments will be restricted to teachers in schools which currently qualify for the Levelling Up Premium and to teachers in all general Further Education colleges. It is unclear how shortage subjects will be defined, given that the majority of subjects, including art and design, have failed to meet teacher recruitment targets this year.


NSEAD General Secretary Michele Gregson commented:

This is education policy made on the hoof, without consultation. What is the research evidence and rationale for this qualification? This is an unsubstantial policy confection that has been dropped on teachers out of the blue. 

Whilst it is good to hear that Further Education colleagues could benefit from these proposals, the announcement of tax-free bonuses only served to create division and confusion. By talking about ‘key’ subjects the government is clinging to the idea that some subjects are more important than others. 

There are real issues that we need to urgently address in education. We have a recruitment and retention crisis across all subjects. We have accountability measures that distort the curriculum and break the talent pipeline. We have a focus on assessment that strangles creativity and relevance to learners. And we have a workforce on its knees with a workload that became unsustainable a long time ago. 

The reality is that there is little expectation that the ‘ABS’ will ever see the light of day. Throwing ill-conceived qualification reform into the public policy arena is an unnecessary distraction from the serious work ahead.