A-levels should be replaced with a broader baccalaureate, says thinktank

A-levels are too narrow and should be replaced with a three-year “baccalaureate” that covers all academic, applied and technical courses, according to a new report by the EDSK education thinktank.

As part of the proposed changes, all students would be required to study English and maths up to the age of 18, in line with other developed nations.

Rather than narrowing choices down to three A-level subjects at the age of 16, the baccalaureate would allow students to retain more breadth in their studies and only gradually specialise over the three-year programme.

The EDSK report says the dominance of A-levels in the English education system has relegated applied and technical courses to second-class status. Last year 83% of school and college leavers studied A-levels.

Under the proposals, A-levels, BTecs, T-levels and apprenticeships would be combined into the single baccalaureate, enabling students to mix and match courses which would be marked using the same grading and accountability system for all.

Tom Richmond, EDSK director and former adviser at the Department for Education, said: “Given that A-levels were originally created to prevent students from specialising too early and only studying a narrow range of subjects, it is ironic that this famous qualification brand has never fulfilled this mission and might have made the situation even worse.

“No other developed country would describe studying just three subjects for two years as a ‘gold standard’. On the contrary, other major economies typically insist that students take around six to eight subjects in their final years at school or college to ensure they receive a broad and balanced education.”

Richmond added: “If the current government is serious about boosting technical education, it must end the political 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.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We do need to look again at A-levels as part of a wider review of qualifications and the curriculum. Whether that means scrapping them is a moot point and there are arguments for and against.

“But what does need to be addressed is the fact that for far too long vocational subjects and qualifications have been perceived as having less worth than academic subjects.”

The Department for Education is keen to hold on to a diverse range of post-16 education options and is now reviewing its post-16 technical qualifications at level 3 and below to ensure they are high quality and can lead to skilled employment or further study.


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