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How to make the Advanced British Standard a skilling success

Earlier this month, prime minister Rishi Sunak unveiled a new post-16 educational qualification to replace A-Levels in his speech at the Conservative Party conference.

The new qualification for 16-19-year-olds “will put technical and academic education on an equal footing and ensure that all young people leave school knowing the basics in maths and English,” Sunak announced.

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However, UK A-Level students only study three subjects on average between the ages of 16 and 19, significantly fewer than the OECD average of seven.

The new Advanced British Standard combines A-Levels and T-Levels into a single new qualification, allowing pupils to take several subjects at both major and minor levels. For example, students might take three major subjects alongside two minor ones.

Crucially, it will mean students are free to take a mix of academic and technical subjects, providing greater flexibility over their future career options.

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How it impacts digital skills gaps

The government’s emphasis on the importance of technical education will be a welcome sigh of relief for many employers who are increasingly seeking a broader range of skills from their employees.

However, as the details of these new qualifications are worked out, digital skills education must be at the heart of the plan.

The House of Lords’ latest Digital Exclusion report revealed that up to 10 million adults in the UK now lack basic digital skills — like using a computer to surf the web, editing Word documents or accessing online banking.

While 82% of all jobs advertised in 2022 listed digital skills as a key requirement, many people leaving school were unprepared to enter the workforce.

This revealed glaring gaps in the UK’s digital literacy, emphasising the need for immediate action to help build young people’s confidence around the digital skills needed to be independent, foster development and gain employment in today’s ever-evolving digital era.

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Getting the Advanced British Standard right

The prime minister has been clear that the Advanced British Standard is a long-term reform that will take time to get right and extra funding to deliver effectively.

It will be years before the new qualification is in place, and the first set of pupils to take it will be those currently just starting primary school. The change will be introduced in close consultation with parents, pupils and teachers.

However, it also signals a crucial opportunity for the government to work with organisations to understand the essential skills, adaptability and mindset required in today’s working world, building a curriculum that aligns with these needs – for example, implementing requirements for students to learn basic tech skills.

Students could be offered the option to take minors in technical subjects such as coding or website building, helping to foster an interest in technology while developing complex problem-solving and critical thinking abilities. Alternatively, coursework or tasks that utilise these competencies could be woven into each subject to give students the confidence and know-how required for the working world.

Furthermore, with new technologies like AI transforming the workplace rapidly, collaborating with industry experts would help foster nationwide agility.

Businesses should also continue to do their part by offering training programmes and collaborating with schools to further enhance digital literacy.

While nobody truly knows what the Advanced British Standard will look like yet, by breaking down the barriers between academic and technical routes, the government is embracing the ever-present role of technology in our lives.

To make a lasting impact, we must ensure young people are encouraged and equipped with the necessary digital skills to succeed in today’s economy.

Agata Nowakowska, head of EMEA sales, Skillsoft