Prime minister Rishi Sunak is planning major education reforms including a British baccalaureate and revamped vocational training in a bid to improve UK productivity and homegrown skills.
The prime minister first put forward the proposals during his unsuccessful summer leadership campaign against Liz Truss.
The recommendations are likely to include the introduction of a British baccalaureate, offering broader academic and vocational qualifications at 18 and a slimmed-down set of exams at 16.
Downing Street sources have also suggested the Sunak is interested in following up The Times Education Commission‘s proposals for the creation of career academies, technical sixth forms with close links to industry, a significant boost to early-years funding and a greater use of technology and artificial intelligence in schools.
Technical colleges with links to industry will offer T-levels and apprenticeships and will be able to award degrees.
Sunak’s new education secretary, Gillian Keegan, will have the task of introducing the package of radical reform. Keegan, having served as skills minister, and who left school at 16 to do an apprenticeship, has long been a keen proponent of vocational training.
The education proposals will form part of the wider effort to improve productivity and increase sluggish growth rates and will see a prioritisation of apprenticeships and T-levels in subjects such as engineering and digital technology. Universities could be urged to scrap courses deemed to have poor graduate prospects or high dropout rates, and funding for courses with high social value, such as nursing, will be prioritised for funding.
Existing plans to create more than 70 free schools will be continued and there will be a greater emphasis on technology in the classroom as well as the use of AI to reduce teacher workload.
Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the education select committee, said improving productivity was key to the proposals.
He said Sunak was “supportive of vocational education because he understands to improve productivity we have to improve skills. The advantage of the British baccalaureate is it will mean that students… have a much wider curriculum so they get the skills that they need and employers want.”
The British baccalaureate will enable year 12 and 13 students to study a wider range of subjects to the age of 18. It will be based on the international baccalaureate, an alternative to A Levels.
The Times Education Commission’s plan to reshape UK education has garnered support from former prime ministers Sir Tony Blair and Sir John Major, as well as 10 former education secretaries, as co-signatories of a letter in support.
“We welcome the work of the Times Education Commission and urge the government to look seriously at its recommendations,” the group stated. “The pandemic has created a reset moment and it is imperative that education is put back at the top of the political agenda to boost productivity and make a reality of the levelling-up agenda.”
The Times Education Commission was set up in June 2021 and aimed to examine Britain’s whole education system and consider its future in the light of the Covid crisis, declining social mobility, new technology and the changing nature of work.
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