Educational reform - we need evolution not revolution

Apr 3, 2024

A black female student in a school classroom

By Monica Thompson, Policy Manager at EngineeringUK


At the end of 2023, the government announced that it’s planning to bring in a new qualification to replace existing A Levels and T Levels. Launching the consultation, the Prime Minister stated that the introduction of the Advanced British Standard (ABS) ‘will ensure technical and academic education are placed on an equal footing, with every student also studying some form of maths and English to age 18’.

As the new qualification is set to significantly alter the educational landscape, it’s important that we take a closer look at what the proposed changes are likely to mean for the engineering and technology sector. At EngineeringUK, the Policy and Public Affairs team have taken a leading role in coordinating a consultation response, on behalf of the National Engineering Policy Centre (NEPC). Here are some of the principles highlighted in our response which outline how government might want to consider refining and reimagining the ABS proposal, to ensure it serves as a cornerstone for securing the UK’s future engineering and technology workforce.  


Evolution not revolution  

When talking to our partners in the engineering sector and beyond, there was a clear consensus that ‘yes’ things needed to change in the education system. But there was also agreement that we did not need another revolution. With T Levels slowly establishing their roots and large engineering employers like Network Rail coming on board offering industry placements to young people, there was agreement that moving away from T Levels, before they have even had the chance to succeed, was a risky move. Even if many of their principles, including industry placements, would be carried over into the new qualification.

There’s no doubt that the world of engineering and technology is evolving at a rapid pace, and that our educational frameworks need to keep up. But reinventing the wheel again and again is likely to destabilise buy-in from employers, young people and their parents alike. In light of this, we see huge value in enhancing existing A level and T Level pathways - refining them to run more smoothly and reach further, rather than bringing in new qualifications to replace it all.

We would agree that this isn't about a mere curriculum tweak, it's about rethinking how we prepare students for the multifaceted world of engineering and technology careers in the UK. As part of the change, we would like to see a broader curriculum post-16, as has been suggested; one that reflects the realities of modern engineering. That most probably means mandatory maths education up to the age of 18 - but maths that links to real-world application and brings it to life. It means greater focus on soft skills and digital proficiency - both non-negotiable requirements in an increasingly digital world.


Focus on careers education

We also want to see careers education really embedded in the curriculum, aiming to not just equip students with essential skills but also to illustrate the diverse career opportunities awaiting them. This will ensure students can directly connect their learning experiences with potential engineering and tech roles, inspiring them to explore traditional fields and emerging sectors, like renewable energy and artificial intelligence. Integrating career insights into the learning journey empowers students to clearly envision their future in engineering, making every class a step towards realising a successful and rewarding career.

We want to see a system that educates young people about sustainability and ethical practices, and has accessibility, diversity, and inclusion at its heart. We are championing an environment where every student, regardless of background, has the opportunity to discover and pursue their passion for engineering and technology.

In light of this, we are keen for alternative pathways, such as BTECs, to continue to co-exist alongside the new system. And we also want to see the way we assess young people change. It's time to move beyond traditional measures of assessment and embrace a system that recognises the diverse talents and potential of every student. This means assessments that are as dynamic and varied as the students themselves, ensuring every potential young engineer or technician can showcase their strengths.


A system fit for the future

As government develops the ABS proposals further its focus must be on developing an educational system that's not only fit for the future, but also capable of shaping it. This is about more than policies and proposals. It's about laying the groundwork for a generation of young people, including future engineering and tech professionals, that will ensure they are ready to tackle the challenges of tomorrow with creativity, resilience, and innovation.

We need a framework that's robust enough to fill the current skills gap and flexible enough to adapt to future needs. This is the pivotal point, where targeted funding and strategic planning ensure that our education system not only survives but thrives.

We will continue to monitor the development of the ABS closely and advocate for what our sector, and our young people, need. 

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