This week’s Poll: How should upper secondary education change?

A-levels are no longer fit for purpose as they are failing to equip young people with the broad range of skills they’ll need in a rapidly changing workplace.

secondary education
Are students being adequately prepared for work?

This is the view of Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, who is set to deliver an address today (February 12, 2019) calling for an independent review into post-16 learning during the next parliament, with a view to transforming school curriculums within the next decade.

It is compulsory in countries including Estonia, Finland, Spain and Taiwan for upper secondary students to tackle a first and second language, maths, science, and one or more further subject. The situation is different in the UK where students chose their own combination of A level options. Typically, students take three A levels but research commissioned by the Royal Society puts the average number of A-levels per student at 2.7, raising concerns about whether young people are leaving school with the broad range of skills needed for the modern workplace.

“If we want our young people to be able to get good jobs and employers to be able to hire the people they need in the future, we need to make sure our schools and colleges are teaching the skills that will be needed. A-levels are not doing that,” Ramakrishnan will tell delegates at the Royal Society Business Forum. “The jobs market has always changed but we are facing a new wave of change driven by technologies such as artificial intelligence. Some jobs will change, some will be lost altogether and there will be many new jobs in industries that don’t even exist yet.”

Highlighting the urgency of the situation, the Royal Society notes that four out of five businesses expect to increase the number of high-skilled roles over the coming years, but two thirds are concerned there will be a lack of sufficiently skilled people to fill them.

They add that from ages 16 to 18, young people’s education should broaden to help develop transferable skills including communication, problem solving, and team work.

But what alternatives to A Levels will maintain academic rigour whilst broadening young people’s horizons and preparing them for work? Could it be the International Baccalaureate, where a final assessment is made in each of six subject groups, namely: language and literature; language acquisition; individuals and societies; sciences; mathematics; the arts. How about 3 A levels plus core maths and an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification, a research project into a topic of the student’s choice that involves an extended essay and presentation at the end of the course); or something based on the French baccalaureate model, where students choose from one of three streams, each with a different specialisation (sciences, economics and social science, and literature).

Alternatively, is the Royal Society being unfair to a qualification that allows young people to start specialising in a subject, and which can help steer their choices beyond sixth form or college?

Let us know by taking part in our Poll and by leaving a comment below. Results of the Poll will be published on February 19, 2019. Comments are moderated and The Engineer’s guidelines for comments can be found here.