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The Advanced British Standard go further and be bolder, says AoC

20 March 2024


The government must go further and be bolder in the design and implementation of the Advanced British Standard (ABS), the Association of Colleges (AoC) has said.

In its response to the government’s ABS consultation, AoC said that the proposals do not reflect the modern labour market and the long careers young people need to be prepared for. Significant change is also needed on critical implementation challenges including teacher pay, capital funding, market competition and careers information, advice and guidance, links to and transition from key stage 4, and how apprenticeships fit for the ABS to be successful.

AoC urged the government to start from the needs and aspirations of young people, in a modern world which is more complex and fast-changing than ever. The ABS, if it is implemented, could be a once in a generation change, so it needs to be bold and look to the future, not to the past.

In October 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced his plan to reform 16-18 education and replace A Levels and T Levels with a single ABS qualification over the next decade. The consultation on the plans opened on 14 December and closed today, 20 March.

In an overview of AoC’s response, Chief Executive David Hughes said that it was helpful to shine a light on this phase of learning but that issues around timing, capacity, resources and terminology needed to be addressed.

He called on the government to provide more support for teacher recruitment and retention and to introduce a funded plan to harmonise teacher pay in colleges with that of school teachers; this pay gap currently stands at £9,000. Mr Hughes also stressed that adequate system infrastructure needed to be funded through capital grants and loans to enable colleges to develop their offer to young people.

The response also urged the government to reform the “pseudo-market approach” to 16 to 19 education which sees high competition for full-time Level 3 learners, and little or no competition for those young people who have not achieved a full Level 2 at age 16, and to introduce a coordinated information, advice and guidance system and common entry and progression requirements.

AoC also raised concerns around the impact on SEND, ESOL and adult learners, exams and assessment, and the lack of enough time allocated to employability, enrichment and pastoral (EEP) activities.

The response called for urgent reform of GCSEs, particularly English and maths, and functional skills, and highlights that the KS4 curriculum in secondary schools is currently designed to prepare for progression to A Level, rather than for a broad academic and technical education.

AoC said that there needed to be “some consensus” about what the right amount of breadth and depth of knowledge and skills are, and what it means for a young person to reach their full potential, and said the FE sector was ready to contribute positively to this important work and to help co-create a better educational offer for young people.

Mr Hughes said: “We want any policy proposals on post-16 education and training to reflect the modern labour market, economy and world we live in. If the ABS makes it to implementation stage, it needs to reflect the complex, fast-changing world young people will be growing up, not the past. AI and machine learning will have major impacts on awork, the skills and attributes adults will need as well as the design, content and assessment of learning programmes. The development of the ABS concept into a practical set of implementation plans needs to start with that modern world, not get stuck in the system we have had for many years.

“These proposals need to better reflect the fact that young people face a rapidly changing, complex world and will need to embrace learning throughout their lives. This phase of education needs to be the bedrock for the learning and development they will need as adults and as citizens. The proposals will also need to demonstrate how they would address achievement gaps linked to social and economic inequalities.

“Starting a major reform for all of the 16 to 18 phase of learning by describing the qualifications gets in the way of the wider set of design and implementation issues we believe are the main drivers for success. Qualifications are simply measures of success used for progression; they should not define curriculum purpose or limit the educational experiences we want to provide for every young person. Nevertheless, we welcome the inclusive scope of these proposed reforms at all levels of study, the focus on study programmes and commitment to new investment in bigger, broader and more coherent programmes for all learners at all levels.”

AoC’s full response can be read here.