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In brief: our Advanced British Standard response

The consultation for the Advanced British Standard (ABS) is well underway and, at NCFE, we’ve been drafting our response from subject specialists and experts across the organisation. 

With a deadline to submit the response by 20 March, here are our top-level takeaways regarding the proposed new qualification: 

1. Teaching hours, quality, and pay  

Plans to invest in 16-18 education and extend the number of teaching hours are welcome and will bring England in line with other developed countries. However, there are well-known challenges around teacher recruitment and retention, and introducing additional teaching hours risks exacerbating these issues, without a plan to address the root causes.  

The pay disparity between schools and colleges should be addressed to ease problems with recruitment and retention for FE institutions. Raising the quality of the hours delivered is more important than raising the number of hours. More hours alone risks driving the standard of teaching down, as teachers are increasingly asked to teach subjects in which they have limited knowledge and experience. 

2. Assessment methods and burden  

Decisions around assessment approaches should be decided based on the course content; what is the best way to assess the knowledge, skills, and behaviours of each qualification? Exam-based assessments are not always the best way and other methods may be better suited to some courses, particularly in the occupational route. 

Minimising the assessment burden is very important and can be achieved by considering the most appropriate form of assessment. Much of the burden on schools, colleges, and providers comes from uploading evidence in volume and scale in short windows, which brings significant risk. There is an opportunity to rethink the purpose of assessment, with more regular on-programme assessment used as a learning aid, and regular feedback to learners as they progress. 

3. Genuine parity of esteem 

Genuine parity of esteem is a long-held aim in England, and achieving this will be vital to the supply of skilled individuals into roles that are needed for a more productive and prosperous economy. Replacing A Levels as part of the introduction of the ABS could therefore level the playing field, bringing all routes under one banner and potentially creating an environment where both routes are equally appealing.  

However, given that by the time the ABS is launched, awareness of T Levels will be greater, it may be worth considering retaining the branding of T Levels and A levels in a reformed system, as they will both have currency and recognition. This will also mitigate issues with learners across different cohorts competing in the labour market with different qualifications.   

The two proposed names, however, risk undermining the aim to bring in a genuine party of esteem. For example, having ‘occupational’ in brackets, but no brackets used for the academic programme, suggests that the academic route is the ‘main’ or preferred route. There is a concern that universities and employers will view the occupational route as inferior, which could impact learner outcomes. 

If you’d like to discuss any of the key points above or your own submission for the Advanced British Standard consultation, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch directly by emailing


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