The Secondary Education Reforms You Should Know About

Note: Since publishing this blog the Government has announced a U-turn on previous claims that all schools will become academies by 2022. Further details here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-36233400 

I recently attended the Decisions at 18 Conference hosted by The Career Development Organisation in Sheffield. Amongst the many careers advisors, from schools, universities and LACs, were employers and those of whom I would call ‘careers experts’. A prominent message throughout the day - not only that careers advisors are in fast-decline (despite the overwhelming need for them in schools) - was that of the changing state of education today.

We’re well underway to what we’ll eventually look back upon as one of the biggest shake-ups in the history of UK education. Inevitably, as with any big change, they’ll have an affect on how the rest of us - especially those looking to recruit directly from schools - work. We’ve compiled the following list of the major education reforms we think you should know about:

All schools to become academies

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ll be aware of this major reform. Yes, by 2020, the government wants to see every school in the country be an academy. It will do away with the age-old local education authorities and mean that schools will be governed by the Headteacher or academy trust. Want to know more? Read our previous article which delves further into the education impact of the most recent budget.

Perhaps, as UBS have done in London, this is an opportunity for businesses to partner with schools and in turn, ‘raise attainment amongst disadvantaged children, increase staff pride and build their own reputation’.

No more A*, grade 9 is the highest GCSE grade

As of 2019, there shall be no more A* - G levels when it comes to grading GCSE papers. Instead, they’ll be marked 1 - 9; nine being the highest (obviously). If you want to know what it equates to, 9 would be the equivalent of a A** grade - which doesn’t currently exist. It is intended that the new system will provide a higher level of differentiation between higher and lower achieving students.

The grades will be given for the first time in 2017 exam results, for specifications that first started teaching in 2015. By 2019, all GCSE results will be using the new system. Employers, time to update your prospectuses!

*Ps. Don’t update in Wales or Northern Ireland, because they’ll be keeping the ol’ A* - G system. If you want to learn more about the three stages of GCSE reform, AQA have created this handy timeline.

A-level and AS-Level changes

Well, it simply wouldn’t be fair to go all out on GCSEs without changing the A Levels too. In short, they’ve decided to ‘decouple’ AS and A Levels, basically meaning that the first won’t count towards the latter. AS Levels will now be a stand alone qualification, and all exams for A Level will be sat at the end of two years.

Thankfully, once again, AQA have created this handy document explaining it all, as well as a timeline of changes. Hoorah!

Changes to vocational qualifications

All vocational qualifications must now meet the criteria set by the DfE in order to count towards school performance tables. This means that 91% of the Level 3 qualifications that previously counted, will be removed from 2016. Vocational qualifications have also been classified into two brackets:

Applied General Qualifications: The purpose of these qualifications is to provide a broader vocational education, and are ‘designed for students wanting to continue their education through applied learning.’ These qualifications must be endorsed by at least three universities and colleges.

The purpose of these qualifications is to lead to a ‘recognised occupation’. For example - engineering, accounting, construction… These qualifications must be endorsed by at least three employers registered at Companies House.

There’s a lot to take in when it comes to qualification reform. Thankfully, the guys over at UCAS have done us all a solid favour and written it all down! Find it here.

Core Maths

It’s been two years since core Maths was introduced in schools across the country. It’s a new qualification designed to better prepare students for the mathematical demands of study, employment and - as their website so kindly puts it - life. The initiative is part of the government’s plan to increase participation and raise standards in mathematics.

Their - let me say it before you do - very ambitious aim is for most students to continue studying Maths to 18 by 2020. For more information on this, have a look at their website.

New UCAS tariff

In 2012, the current UCAS tariff was reviewed and brought up a number of issues. So, for applications to higher education courses starting in 2017, the new tariff will be in place. They have basically changed the numbers based on the weighting of the qualification. For example, an A grade at A-Level would carry 120 points under the current tariff but will only carry 48 in the new tariff.

Students will still have to gain the same grades to get into higher education, it’s just a different figure. Again, employers - if you’re using UCAS points as admission tools, you’ll have to update your prospectuses.

Here’s a quick screen grab of the new tariff points and how they relate to each qualification:

Science: Practical and Theoretical marks

Students who choose to take Science - that is Physics, Biology, Chemistry or Combined Science - will now be marked on their practical work as well as theoretical.


AQA, again, have provided a handy document which documents the changes.

Schools must equally promote apprenticeships

This is something that we have covered previously; in light of the apprenticeship levyemployers are creating more and more opportunities within their workplaces for school leavers, and so it will soon be the duty of schools to promote these opportunities as much as they do higher education.

Personally, I think that the new law is a fantastic change. So many of my friends packed their bags and went to university just because it was the done thing and they didn’t know what else was out there. With these changes, I’m hoping we will see a lot more students take up apprenticeships and start to earn as they learn…  

Bringing it all together

Wow. These certainly are some big changes to education as we know it. Soon I, like many others, will be part of that generation who did the old qualifications. For schools, these are massive changes, but it does have a knock on effect with employers too.

Are you an employer? Did you know about these changes? What will you be doing in your business to ensure that your recruitment strategies affect this change?