A-levels a gold standard? That’s nonsense, says top philanthropist


The founder of Britain’s leading social mobility charity has backed Rishi Sunak’s plans to replace A-levels with a broader baccalaureate, saying that making teenagers study just three subjects is “crazy”.

Sir Peter Lampl, the multi-millionaire founder of The Sutton Trust, said the idea that “incredibly narrow” A-levels represent a “gold standard” is “nonsense”.

Mr Sunak wants to reform A-levels to create a new “British Baccalaureate” where pupils would study a broader range of subjects after the age of 16, including compulsory English and maths.

The proposal was floated during his unsuccessful leadership campaign against Liz Truss last year and is understood to be part of the Prime Minister’s long-term plans to change the country following his watering down of net zero targets.

The plan has been welcomed by Sir Peter, a former private equity boss who grew up on a council estate and has spent more than £50 million of his own fortune expanding social mobility.

‘Totally out of line with other countries’

Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “We’re incredibly narrow.

“People say A-levels are a gold standard, that’s nonsense, it’s crazy. We are totally out of line with other advanced countries – France, Germany, the US, Sweden.”

Sir Peter said that requiring teenagers to take three A-levels meant they were effectively choosing what they could study at university at age 16 or 15 – “which is completely barmy”.

Reflecting on his own education, Sir Peter said he got “funnelled” into studying chemistry at Oxford.

“Did I really enjoy four years of doing chemistry? The answer is no,” he said.

“It was so narrow, I was in a silo. I had to choose it before the hell I knew anything. And we’re still doing that.

“It’s bad for the kids and it’s bad for the country to have that kind of system.”

He said a broader system would boost social mobility because it would give teenagers from poorer families more time to think about their futures.

The current system is “very much to the advantage of well-off people” who get high-quality careers advice, he said.

Sir Peter also believes that UK undergraduate degrees should be remodelled along American lines to give students the opportunity to study a range of subjects.

With The Sutton Trust paying for about 60 state school pupils to go to elite United States universities each year, Sir Peter said he is in no doubt about which country has the best system.

He said that in the US “it’s a four-year programme, but the first year you are doing lots of different things and you’re deciding what you’re going to do in terms of majoring, which I think is terrific”.

If he had his time again, he would have preferred to go to Yale rather than Oxford, he added.

‘We’ve got to bite the bullet’

Critics of Mr Sunak’s plans have said there are not enough teachers to support the policy.

They also say the Prime Minister should focus on fixing the basics in state schools rather than plunging the system into another period of upheaval.

But Sir Peter said it was “something we should have done a long time ago”.

“Yes there will be upheaval and there will be cost, but at some point we’ve got to bite the bullet,” he added.

“The world is a lot more complex and diverse than it was 20, 30 years ago, so I think you need more breadth in your education instead of just being in a silo.”