The Prime Minister's proposed Advanced British Standard is an ambitious reform to increase teaching time, broaden the post-16 curriculum and unify academic and vocational routes under a single banner.
England's current post-16 education system is a tale of two parts: a well-established, rigorous but narrow A-level route that has seen only minor changes over time; and a vocational sector that has been in an almost permanent state of revolution and reinvention for at least the last 30 years, T levels being the latest big (and still incomplete) change. However well intentioned, this policy churn has its own costs, making it more difficult for schools, young people and employers to understand the value of qualifications and to navigate the system.
Luke Sibieta, Research Fellow at IFS, said:
'Increasing total teaching time by 195 hours will require more teachers and more funding to pay for them. The Prime Minister has said that post-16 education will be a big priority at future spending reviews. However, there is more than a bit of catching up to do. Colleges and sixth forms saw large real-terms cuts in funding per pupil between 2010 and 2019. Despite recent increases, spending per student aged 16-18 in colleges is still expected to be 5% lower in real terms in 2024 than in 2010, and spending per student in sixth forms is expected to be 22% lower.
'The Prime Minister has also set himself a hard problem to solve in recruiting the teachers to deliver these qualifications. Most school teacher salaries in England this year are about 10% lower in real terms than they were in 2010. College teachers have seen an even faster decline in real-terms pay of 18% since 2010. A bonus worth up to £6,000 a year would boost the salaries of the newest teachers by about 20%, but this would only apply to the newest teachers in shortage subjects in deprived areas (probably about 1-2% of all teachers). Recruiting large numbers of extra teachers for a wider and more intensive post-16 curriculum might require more ambitious policy changes. Extending the teaching bonuses to college teachers is a small step in this direction.'
Christine Farquharson, Associate Director at IFS, said:
'Delivering such a huge reform to the education system will inevitably require huge commitment and attention from policymakers and educators, as well as funding. But these changes will also affect other stages of education, including the expectations of and support for pupils who do not achieve five good GCSEs at 16. The Prime Minister should also be wary of focusing only on secondary schools; more than one in four pupils was already not reaching the expected standard in maths at age 11. Preventing children from falling behind in the first place would represent real long-term thinking on improving educational attainment.'