MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday set out plans to overhaul post-16 education in England with a new qualification and promised a tax-free bonus of up to 30,000 pounds ($36,372) to help attract and retain teachers in key school subjects.
The government said it would provide an initial 600 million pounds of funding over two years to help support teacher recruitment and retention and lay the groundwork for a new qualification for 16-19 year-olds.
The Advanced British Standard, which the government said it did not expect to introduce for more than a decade, would see most students study a minimum of five subjects, compared to three under the current A-level system.
It will also incorporate the current T-level qualification, focused on vocational skills, so students have the option to take a mix of technical and academic subjects, with all students also required to study some form of maths and English to age 18.
“Education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet – it is the best economic policy, the best social policy and the best moral policy,” Sunak said in a statement, adding the changes would bring England into line with other major western economies including France, Germany, Japan and the United States.
“The plan we have set out today … represents real, meaningful reform that will put technical and academic education on an equal footing and ensure that all young people leave school or college knowing the basics in maths and English.”
Children currently aged 4-5 years-old, who started primary school this year, are expected to be the first cohort to take the Advanced British Standard, the government said.
The National Education Union (NEU), Britain’s largest education trade union with more than 450,000 members, said the recruitment crisis in schools was caused by “excessive workload and below inflation pay” which would not be solved by bonuses.
“Rishi Sunak is doubling down on pie-in-the-sky education policies. He is completely out of touch with reality,” NEU General Secretary Daniel Kebede said.
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(Reporting by William James, writing by Farouq Suleiman, Editing by Kylie MacLellan)