Compulsory maths and English until 18 and more vocational subjects under Sunak education reforms


Rishi Sunak is planning major education and skills reforms after taking over as Prime Minister.

A new ‘baccalaureate’ would see students continue with compulsory English and maths until 18, but sit fewer exams at 16.

Alongside it would be a major expansion of vocational training, including new colleges with links to industry.

Mr Sunak signalled his intentions on education last night when he appointed Rob Halfon and Nick Gibb as education ministers under Secretary of State Gillian Keegan.

A No10 source told the Times that Mr Sunak believed education reform was a ‘silver bullet’ with the power to transform lives, adding: ‘This is an absolute priority for the prime minister.’ 

A new 'baccalaureate' would see students continue with compulsory English and maths until 18, but sit fewer exams at 16.

A new ‘baccalaureate’ would see students continue with compulsory English and maths until 18, but sit fewer exams at 16.

Rob Halfon

Nick Gibb

Mr Sunak signalled his intentions on education last night when he appointed Rob Halfon and Nick Gibb as education ministers under Secretary of State Gillian Keegan.

Harlow MP Mr Halfon, the Skills Minister, is a long-standing chairman of the Education Committee who served as a minister under David Cameron and has long championed reform to help disadvantaged children.

He is a long-term Sunak backer, who described the Truss regime as ‘libertarian Jihadists’. 

Mr Gibb returns as school standards minister for a third time under his fourth PM, having served in the post from 2010 to 2012 and again from 2015 to 2021.

Mr Halfon said: ‘I’m looking forward to working with colleagues to deliver the Prime Minister’s exciting education and skills agenda to ensure every student can climb the educational ladder of opportunity.’

It builds on the platform Mr Sunak set out while campaigning in the previous Tory leadership election, in the summer.

In a three-point plan to transform education, the Tory leadership hopeful vowed to phase out university degrees that do not improve students’ ‘earning potential’, create a Russell Group of world-class technical colleges and introduce the Baccalaureate that would prevent 16-year-olds from dropping maths and English.

It came a week after his rival Liz Truss pitched herself as the ‘education prime minister’ with a plan to replace failing academies with new free schools. She won the election but was turfed out in just six weeks.

In an interview with the Sunday Times during the campaign, the former chancellor criticised the ‘overly narrow specialisation’ of the current curriculum, which he said does not prepare young people for the ‘economy of tomorrow’.

‘We are almost unique in the western world, for an advanced economy and all high-performing education systems, in allowing people to drop maths and stop studying their native language at 16,’ he told the newspaper.

‘In Germany, France, Asia, youngsters are studying maths all the way to 18 and in the way a modern economy works, I think it’s going to hold us back if our youngsters don’t have those skills.’

His campaign also pledged to strengthen networks of technical institutions and their links with industry, as well as giving them powers to award degrees.

University degrees would also be assessed through their drop-out rates, numbers in graduate jobs and salary thresholds, with exceptions for nursing and other courses with high social value.

However at a hustings in Leeds Mr Sunak also gave his backing to a new wave of grammar schools.

Analysis shows that the majority of his new Cabinet went to fee-paying schools, while nearly half studied at Oxbridge universities.

The new Prime Minister continues a recent trend by packing his top team with those who went to independent schools, including his three most senior colleagues: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

Mr Sunak himself attended Winchester College near his home town of Southampton, where fees for day students currently cost nearly £34,000 per year.

In total, 19 of the 31 positions in Mr Sunak’s Cabinet are occupied by people who went to an independent school (61 per cent), according to analysis by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust.

Four studied at a grammar school (13 per cent), while seven (23 per cent) went to a state comprehensive – including new Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.

The majority of Rishi Sunak¿s Cabinet went to fee-paying schools, while nearly half studied at the prestigious Oxbridge universities, analysis shows

The majority of Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet went to fee-paying schools, while nearly half studied at the prestigious Oxbridge universities, analysis shows

One member of the new Cabinet, International Trade Secretary and Women and Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, went to an international school.

The proportion of those attending fee-paying schools is slightly lower than those in Liz Truss’s Cabinet (68 per cent) and Boris Johnson’s first Cabinet (64 per cent). But it is much higher than Theresa May’s 2016 Cabinet (30 per cent).

By comparison, the current Labour shadow cabinet is packed with those who went to state schools.

In fact, 84 per cent of Sir Keir Starmer’s most senior colleagues went to a comprehensive, with just 10 per cent going to a grammar school.

Of those attending Mr Sunak’s maiden Cabinet meeting this week, 45 per cent went to university at either Oxford or Cambridge.

This compares with less than one-third (32 per cent) of the current Labour Shadow Cabinet.

By comparison, the current Labour shadow cabinet is packed with those who went to state schools

By comparison, the current Labour shadow cabinet is packed with those who went to state schools

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: ‘Rishi Sunak faces unprecedented challenges as he enters Number 10.

‘While his Cabinet is marginally more representative than Truss’s, Tuesday’s appointments highlight how unevenly spread opportunities to enter the most prestigious positions continue to be.

‘Making the most of Britain’s talent – regardless of background – must be a priority.’

Meanwhile, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘We have nothing against private education – and represent independent school leaders – but it is important that our political leaders come from socially diverse backgrounds and understand the needs and life experiences of the public.

‘We are pleased, however, that the new Education Secretary Gillian Keegan not only went to a state school, but then went on to complete an apprenticeship, which gives her a good understanding of the importance of a skills agenda which will benefit many young people and the future of the country.’



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