New Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is planning to make radical changes to the education system that, he believes, will improve the lives of children up and down the country. Plans include the introduction of a new “British baccalaureate” and a new network of technical institutions that will focus primarily on vocational training.
The new Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, will be tasked with driving these new plans forward. Interestingly, Keegan left school at 16 to do an apprenticeship making her one of the best-placed members of parliament to push this focus on vocational teaching through. Prior to being Education Secretary, she served as Skills Minister.
These planned reforms emerged as Sunak started to juggle his government and stamp his authority on the job. A ban on fracking has been reinstated and Jeremy Hunt has been ordered to reassess his plans for the economy.
A Downing Source said when Sunak was elected that if there were “one silver bullet in public policy” that would improve lives, it would be investment in education and vocational skills. The same source added that education is an “absolute priority” for Sunak, and these plans are evidence of this theory coming to life.
The British baccalaureate that the Prime Minister intends to establish will mean that all students between 16-18 will have to take compulsory English and Mathematics exams. These exams, Sunak believes, will improve overall education standards in the country.
The network of technical institutions that Sunak wants to create will have links to industry and will be modelled on Russell Group universities. They will have the power to award degrees to their students, while they will also offer apprenticeships and T-levels, making them hybrid institutions of vocation and theory.
Meanwhile, university courses will be assessed for funding using data surrounding dropout rates and the salary of graduates to determine how useful they are moving forward. The only exception will be for courses with high social value, such as nursing and teaching.
Another change to the current education system that Sunak wants to carry out relates to technology. He wants there to be a greater emphasis on technology in the classroom, including the use of AI to reduce teachers’ workloads.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative Chairman of the Education Select Committee, has said that the planned reforms and the appointment of Keegan as Education Secretary is a “massive signal” that Sunak is prioritising education. He said:
“One of the key reasons for me for backing Rishi Sunak was his views on education. He is 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 idea of a British baccalaureate is not an entirely new one. When Michael Gove was Education Secretary, he instructed Sir Richard Sykes, the Chairman of the Royal Institution, to conduct a review of such a system.
Sykes concluded that a baccalaureate was far more sensible than A-levels and would provide students with a broader and better education.
Meanwhile, Rachel Wolf, the founder of the campaigning think tank Public first, has said in the past that the narrowness for the 16-19 curriculum in the United Kingdom is a monumental weakness and one that makes it harder for people to engage with the complexities of our world.
Since becoming Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has also put on hold plans to reform the planning system and has delayed plans to outline the government’s approach to tackling the multibillion-pound hole in public finances.
In further contrast to his predecessor, he has also refused to rule out the possibility of ending the triple lock on pensions. One of the biggest calls he has made so far is to re-appoint Suella Braverman as home secretary after she was forced to resign just one week earlier.
While it is welcome that the Prime Minister has a keen interest in improving education for young people in the country, it remains to be seen how successful a British Baccalaureate would be.
If Sunak gets his way, though, it may not be long until we find out the answer.
Image: RishiSunak.com Middleham School