Comment | 'Students deserve better than this system in flux'
By Ant Sutcliffe, Associate Director, Higher Horizons, Keele University. This article first appeared in the Stoke Sentinel as a Personally Speaking column in November 2023.
As part of the recent Inspiring Stokies: The Big Tutorials event at Stoke-on-Trent College, I was asked to deliver talks to around 400 young people at the college’s Burslem campus. Not only was I thrilled to be asked, I was even more thrilled to be speaking on the very road that I grew up on, Moorland Road. I know firsthand how tremendously talented and passionate our young people are. They are bright and kind. One thing that did strike me about those that I spoke to during breaks, and in the canteen, was how focused they were. Whether it be heading off to university to study business, or becoming qualified plumbers, they knew where they were going. I was delighted that a number of them had commented that it was our Higher Horizons team that had helped them create those pathways at confusing times of their journeys.
What I did notice, however, was that these young people knew where they were heading because their routes are quite straight forward. Those that wanted to take an academic route were looking to take A-Levels, and those wanting a more vocational type of route, BTECs. Both leading to either university and then the job market, or just to the job market with continued on-the-job learning. It was some mild frustration, then, that I saw the Government announce that the new Advanced British Standard qualification would be replacing A Levels (Advanced Levels) and T levels (Technical Levels). The latter was only introduced in 2020. BTECs are also currently being phased out. The new Advanced British Standard (which will only be available in England, despite what it says on the tin) will see young people study five subjects until the age of 18, three majors and two minors, and they will have to study English and Maths until 18, too. The Advanced British Standard will offer a mix of technical and academic courses with an extra 200 hours of teaching – quite an ambition in a climate where we see a lack of teaching staff entering and sticking in the profession.
I am not here to judge the new all-encompassing qualification before it has even begun, and with a potential change of Government, it may never get off the ground, but I do throw a caution sign up. Schools, colleges, and universities do rely on stability when it comes to qualifications, and we have seen a lot of change in the last 10 years. Not only will colleges have to overhaul their entire teaching and learning practices, universities will have to spend a lot of time focusing on admissions policies. We will of course react to the changes, the education system is good at that, and we will continue to offer excellent teaching to those who may not have the same educational chances that those in more affluent areas enjoy, but the uncertainty will inevitably have an impact on the young people too. Something they could probably do without following such disruption during the COVID times.
Higher Horizons, despite a number of Government cuts, have delivered more than 4,500 free educational activities to over 40,000 young people from around our wonderful area, and we owe it to them to keep creating chances and pathways for them. One way to do that is to stop chopping and changing our educational provision in England which seems to be in a constant state of flux. Those young people, including those 400 at Burslem college are the real “Inspiring Stokies”, not me, and they deserve an education system as wonderful as they are to fill their undoubted potential. Maybe it is time for them, and those that are so passionate and knowledgeable about education in our schools, colleges and universities to be asked what educational reform in England should look like.
- Keele University malaria research receives $750,000 backing from prestigious philanthropic foundation
- Keele University helping prepare Staffordshire for net zero future
- New purpose-built insectary will enhance Keele's world-leading research
- Keele degree leads to Daniel working with Premier League stars
- Keele University supports £2m climate education expansion for England's young learners