Michelle Doyle Wildman, PSA Chief Executive 5 April 2024


The latest government proposals received a mixed response but do raise some interesting questions about providing our young people with broader-based education pathways and the need for more collaboration between schools, further education and higher education sectors to achieve this.


What is the Government seeking to do?

The Government recently held a consultation on what they termed ‘The Advanced British* Standard.’ This is a new baccalaureate qualification for 16-19 year olds which would bring together, or replace, A and T Levels (itself still a fledgeling qualification) and, as has been widely reported, expect pupils to continue their education in English and Mathematics until they are 18.

You can read more about the proposals here.

What are the considerations for Political Studies and other Social Sciences?

The PSA worked with other learned societies, including BERA and the Royal Economic Society, to input to a collective response to this consultation coordinated by the Academy of Social Sciences. You can read our response here.

As well as pointing out the need to invest in recruiting more teachers and in teacher training to build the capacity needed to deliver this policy, we took the opportunity to remind the Secretary of State, Gillian Keegan MP, of the strength and value of Social Sciences overall. We want to ensure that any changes do not diminish the strength of social sciences education at Post-16, undergraduate level and beyond, including making sure that Social Sciences subjects are clearly offered as ‘major’ subjects in the five or so that can be chosen as part of this qualification.

How have others responded? What questions remain to be answered?

As usual, the House of Commons Library has produced a really useful briefing on this proposal and the Opposition’s ‘cool’ response.

Interestingly, however, this doesn’t include the perspective of major stakeholders in any changes to Post-16 qualifications, namely the Higher Education/Universities sector. The Russell Group and Universities UK did make a public response to the proposals although these didn’t make the headlines.

The apparent narrowing of education for students taking A level study in the UK (especially when compared to young people in other countries) has been the subject of debate for some time and the spirit of broadening this out to include more subjects and extracurricular activities has been welcomed. The move towards T levels was an attempt to bring a parity of esteem for technical qualifications with academic ones.  A levels appear to be popular with universities as they provide students with a depth of knowledge ahead of undertaking Undergraduate studies. However, University admissions processing already have to handle applicants with baccalaureate qualifications including the IB, Scottish Highers and the Irish leaving certificate. If parity of admissions is an issue with these proposals, how is this achieved now? And do all the stakeholders in Government, schools’ sector, further and higher education share a common vision for what our 16-19 year olds should have learned ahead of whatever path they wish to take in the future?

Let’s see if this makes it to a White Paper in Summer 24!

*Education matters are delegated to the administrations of the four nations of the UK so strictly speaking this consultation related to England only. A levels are taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with Scotland already offering a broader-based Scottish Highers Qualification framework.