The A-level system in England could be overhauled with a new style of British baccalaureate in which children would study more subjects after the age of 16, according to reports.
The proposals include English and maths becoming compulsory up until the age of 18, the Times said. Students would also be required to study a wider range of subjects in post-16 education.
A Conservative source told the paper that Rishi Sunak was determined to press ahead with the plan, having initially suggested the idea during his unsuccessful leadership campaign against Liz Truss last year.
The Tory source added: “He came back from the summer with a series of things he wanted to move on. A-level reform is a critical part of it.”
In 2021, the EDSK education thinktank concluded that A-levels were too narrow and should be replaced with a three-year “baccalaureate” that covers all academic, applied and technical courses.
Its report said students should be required to study English and maths up to the age of 18, in line with other developed nations.
The EDSK report warned that the dominance of A-levels in the English education system had relegated applied and technical courses to second-class status.
About half of 18-year-olds in England take A-levels, meaning they typically sit exams in three subjects. Rather than narrowing down choices, the baccalaureate would in theory allow students to retain more breadth in their studies and only gradually specialise over the three-year programme.
A senior government source told the Times that options were being looked into and no final decision had been taken.
Robert Halfon, the former chairman of the education select committee, has previously backed the idea of a British baccalaureate. He said: “The advantage of the British baccalaureate is it will mean that students have a much wider curriculum so they get the skills that they need and employers want.”
A-levels were first awarded in 1951 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and until the early 1960s, the qualification was awarded only at the grades of pass and distinction.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Since 2010 we have made huge progress in driving up school standards and giving young people the best start in life, with record funding for schools and more full-time teachers than ever before.
“We have already taken steps to reform the post-16 qualifications landscape, including reforming technical education and delivering millions of new high-quality apprenticeships.
“Alongside this, we have set out bold plans to ensure that every young person studies some form of maths up to the age of 18 to give them the skills they need to succeed in the jobs of the future.”