Tony Blair calls for digital overhaul of 'analogue' GCSEs and A-levels

Former prime minister's think tank wants qualifications that encourage more of the 4Cs

English pupils need better and broader skills, says former UK prime minister Sir Tony Blair's think tank
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Days after pupils in the UK received lower A-level grades compared to the past two years when there were no exams, former prime minister Sir Tony Blair's think tank says the assessment system should be scrapped.

According to a new report, Ending the Big Squeeze on Skills: How to Futureproof Education in England, English pupils are getting an “analogue education in a digital age” and will need better and broader skills if they are to compete with international counterparts.

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change says GCSEs and A-levels should be replaced with qualifications that encourage more of the 4Cs — critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving.

Calling for a “radical reform” of the current system of education, the institute recommends an overhaul of the national curriculum, led by an independent expert commission, that would encourage more “independent thinking”.

“Young people in England are receiving an analogue education in a digital age and leaving school ill-prepared for the workplace,” said James Scales, TBI skills policy lead and co-author of the report.

“Our system remains anchored firmly in the past. This is holding back our young people and the country as a whole.”

“Without the radical reform required to produce a new generation of forward thinkers, we won’t build the high-wage, high-skilled economy we need.”

The report warned that British students are at risk of being left behind in a world increasingly shaped by automation and artificial intelligence.

The TBI suggested a new qualification could “draw on and refine the principles that underpin the International Baccalaureate”, with a series of low-stakes assessments for pupils between the ages of 16 and 18.

The report insists reform does not mean ‘diluting standards or letting coasting schools get away with low performance’ and that the proposed system will still have “discipline, rigour and accountability to parents at its core.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the report adds to growing calls for “fresh thinking” on qualifications.

“To remove the clutter of overburdened timetables, reduce the ridiculously high-stakes nature of the current system, and, most importantly, make sure that it works better for all children and young people,” Mr Barton said.

“At the current rate of progress, the attainment gap between disadvantaged and other children will never close”.

“We need a system which looks to the future rather than one which is rooted in the past.”

In June, Sir Tony was among several public figures who gave their backing to plans drawn up to reshape the UK education by the Times Education Commission following a year-long consultative process.

The overhaul included recommendations to replace A-Levels with a British Baccalaureate and making digital skills a major subject.

But Michelle Donelan, who was higher and further education minister at the time, said the government wanted to “simplify the options available” and warned against “confusing things further.”

A-level grades were awarded based on teacher assessments in 2020 and 2021, due to the pandemic.

Updated: August 23, 2022, 3:00 AM