University Alliance responds to DfE’s Advanced British Standard consultation

University Alliance have published their response to the Department for Education’s Advanced British Standard consultation.


  1. University Alliance is broadly supportive of the aims of the Advanced British Standard (ABS). As professional and technical universities, we see equal value in both academic and vocational subjects and do not believe students should be forced down one route or another. We also agree that all students need good literacy and numeracy skills to thrive and support the principle of compulsory maths and English to 18.
  2. There is widespread support across the education sector for increasing the breadth of 16-19 education in England, which has narrowed in the past decade. However, the DfE will need to work closely with the higher education sector to ensure there will be no loss of breadth and depth under the ABS, especially for science subjects. It is essential that some of the problems encountered during the rollout of T Levels – notably the uncertainty of whether they would be accepted by higher education providers – are avoided with the ABS.
  3. The ambitious rollout of the ABS offers the opportunity to establish a Bank of England-style independent body to oversee designing the curriculum and updating it as new evidence of best practice emerges, as recommended by numerous education experts over the years.
  4. It is vital that the DfE works in partnership with the whole education sector, including universities, to ensure the ABS is rolled out with the maximum amount of consensus possible. It should seek to avoid a repeat of the sequencing problems encountered by the Level 3 reform programme, which is seeking to remove funding from many Applied General Qualifications before the full roll out and successful bedding down of T Levels.
  5. The establishment of the ABS offers a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink modes of 16-19 assessment and ensure they remain fit for purpose. The retention of the status quo in the proposals is therefore a missed opportunity to reflect increasing cross-party concerns that the current approach is no longer sufficient. We recommend that the DfE consult closely with a range of stakeholders, including universities and employers, to design a new forward-thinking, inclusive and authentic assessment system fit for the future.
  6. The significant shortage of teachers is by far one of largest obstacles to the effective implementation of the ABS. There needs to be a reversal of the sharp decline in teacher training applications and an increase in qualified teachers – particularly secondary maths teachers – to make the policy feasible. The DfE must work closely with teacher training providers, including universities, to find solutions.
  7. There are numerous aspects of the 11-16 curriculum that are likely to have an impact on the success of the ABS. It is therefore imperative that the DfE also conducts a review of the 11-16 curriculum and is genuinely open-minded to making changes. In fact, there is arguably much stronger support for the reform of qualifications at Level 2 (notably GCSEs) than at Level 3.
  8. A significant issue that needs to be looked at is the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) accountability tool, which is set to be retained under the ABS. If the DfE wants to see a wider number of subjects studied under the ABS, including a mix of academic and vocational subjects, it must consider the narrowing effect that the EBacc is having on the Level 3 pipeline.
  9. The best – and arguably only – way to ensure the ABS provides effective pathways into post-18 education and study is to closely involve a wide range of different types of post-18 providers in the design and implementation of the new qualification from the outset. University Alliance is keen to be involved at all stages of the process.

See the full consultation response here.

Further reading