Rishi Sunak has said that as prime minister he would encourage the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology in the classroom to reduce the workload on teachers.
The promise to champion new technology in schools forms part of a package which he said would “radically reform education to put British kids ahead”.
The former chancellor, who is vying with Liz Truss for the Conservative leadership, hailed school reforms ushered in by Michael Gove as one of the party’s greatest achievements of its 12 years in power, and said he would build on them by opening more free schools in areas with the poorest attainment.
He promised a “transformation” in post-16 education to drive up the prestige of apprenticeships and vocational courses and shut down university degrees with a poor record of getting students into well-paying jobs.
Mr Sunak said he would create a “Russell Group” of world-class technical institutions – mirroring the elite group of academic universities – to give apprenticeship and T-level students confidence that they are receiving the best available education in their chosen fields. Regius professorships would be established to identify and celebrate the best teaching.
And he said he would “bear down” on university degrees that saddle students with debt without improving their life chances.
Drawing on Institute for Fiscal Studies research suggesting that 20 per cent of students are left with lower earning potential as a result of going to university, Mr Sunak said he would take a “robust” approach to degrees with poor outcomes.
Courses will be judged on factors including drop-out rates, numbers moving on to graduate jobs and salary thresholds – with key exceptions for courses with high social value like nursing.
Aides denied this would mean favouring science courses over the arts, pointing to research showing that creative arts degrees at some institutions deliver better returns for students than economics degrees elsewhere.
The former chancellor said he would harness AI and digital teaching resources to reduce teacher workload and inspire pupils.
The Department for Education would receive a new mandate to explore how more digital technology could be used in schools to deliver “hybrid learning” to supplement teachers.
Mr Sunak said: “A good education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet when it comes to making people’s lives better.
“These proposals represent a significant stride towards parity of esteem between vocational and academic education. And they will take a tougher approach to university degrees that saddle students with debt, without improving their earning potential.
“I will also take bold, practical steps to build on the successful Conservative education reforms of the past decade by harnessing technology and improving the quality of teaching in underperforming areas.
“Every child deserves a world-class education and, if I become prime minister, I will make it my mission from day one to ensure that’s what they get.”