Think-tank report questions if A-levels have a future


A-levels should be replaced by a new baccalaureate to enhance secondary level education in England, a think tank has claimed.

According to the second part of Reassessing the Future from EDSK, the dominance of A-levels must be challenged as it has negatively impacted the other learning options available to pupils.

The first part of the report, which looks at what education may look like in future, also suggested that GCSEs should be discarded in favour of digital assessments.

Tackling the dominance of A-levels

The think-tank’s director, Tom Richmond – once an advisor to former education secretaries Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan – said a breadth of educational options is required.

“If the current government is serious about boosting technical education, it must end the obsession with A-levels by introducing a ‘baccalaureate’ that creates a level playing field for a broad range of rigorous academic, applied and technical courses,” he said.

He pointed to the dominance of A-levels, something he described as “ironic” given they were introduced to “prevent students from specialising too early and only studying a narrow range of subjects”.

For context, 83% of the 328,000 pupils who completed their education in 2020 had taken at least one subject at A-level, putting them ahead of BTECs, technical courses and apprenticeships.

The report adds that the “limited breadth of A-levels makes England an outlier by international standards”, as a number of nations have a broad curriculum throughout secondary education.

A broader approach to education

EDSK have put forward a set of proposals that would see those aged 15-18 undertaking various levels of a ‘baccalaureate’, which would be based on a wide-ranging and highly flexible framework.

Foundation, standard and higher levels would partly mirror the current system, whereby GCSEs are followed by AS-levels and A-levels.

The foundation level would feature a wider set of subjects before pupils would then narrow down their choices as they progress.

Under the proposals, maths and English would be compulsory until individuals “achieve at least a pass grade in either exam at the higher level of the baccalaureate”.

Providing pupils with a range of choices

While the baccalaureate will feature three main pathways for pupils, there will be plenty of options to pick and choose academic and technical courses.

Academic subjects would include English and maths, as well as the sciences, history, geography, law and languages, for example.

The Applied set of courses would cover wider areas of employment, such as design and technology, art and design, business studies, travel and tourism, music and computing.

Finally, Technical courses would focus on specific trades and occupations such as accountancy, bricklayers, florists, chefs and plumbers.

A credit system could be applied to every subject at each of the levels, with a minimum requirement setting out the amount of work students would be expected to complete.

The Department for Education is currently reviewing post-16 qualifications and a set of plans are expected to be outlined in the spring.

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