The prime minister has undermined efforts to raise the parity of technical education through his “careless” and “undeliverable” announcement to replace T Levels and A-levels, the shadow education secretary has said.
Bridget Phillipson attacked Rishi Sunak’s 10-year plan to create the Advanced British Standard (ABS) during a fringe event this afternoon ahead of her mainstage speech at the Labour party conference on Wednesday morning.
She was asked how a Labour government would balance parity between academic and technical education routes for young people following the prime minister’s announcement last week that A-levels and T Levels would be merged to form the ABS, with increased classroom teaching hours.
T Levels were designed to be the Conservative government’s technical version of rigorous and respected A-level qualifications. But they only launched in 2020 and aren’t yet fully rolled out.
Sunak said technical education is “not given the respect it deserves” but he is “changing all of that, pulling one of the biggest levers we have to change the direction of our country” with the creation of the ABS.
The ABS would require a minimum of 1,475 teaching hours over two years and all students will continue English and maths regardless of prior attainment.
“What we see from the prime minister is undeliverable in its current form,” Phillipson said.
“To then effectively junk T Levels having botched their roll-out I find absolutely extraordinary and staggering.
“And I think it does nothing to bring greater parity in terms of the academic and the technical to behave in such a cavalier way when it comes to the roll-out of such an important qualification.
“So I find it just unbelievable that he would act in such a careless manner. But then, I think that’s Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives down to a tee.”
But Labour is yet to reveal its plans for 16 to 19 education.
Phillipson’s swipe at Sunak comes months after the Labour party pledged to pause and review the defunding of level 3 applied general qualifications, like BTECs, should it win the next election. This commitment was repeated at Labour’s conference by the new shadow skills minister, Seema Malhotra in various appearances at fringe events today.
Labour has supported T Levels but it remains to be seen whether they will unveil their own version of Sunak’s baccalaureate-style ABS with the extra teaching hours and continued English and maths.
Labour leader Keir Starmer announced yesterday that a Labour government would introduce ‘technical excellence colleges’ – a new status for existing colleges awarded through a bidding process for colleges delivering in-demand specialist courses. He is expected to reveal more details in his main stage speech at the conference tomorrow.