Stories + Views
What did employers say about school leavers?
In the last ten years the number of employers satisfied with school and college leavers’ basic skills remains constant at around 66% according to the 2012 CBI/Pearson survey. 58% reported that they didn’t have to provide any remedial training for schools leavers although the 42% who did found that the most common extra training was for IT. 80% did not have to provide classes in numeracy or literacy: 65% reported being satisfied with the literacy skills of new employees and 70% were satisfied with their numeracy.
It’s worrying that 20% of employers surveyed felt they needed to provide help to upgrade the numeracy or literacy of the school and college leavers they recruit. However, employers were more concerned that leavers didn’t have the self-management skills needed for work and employers blamed schools for this deficit.
The report complained that in 2011 only 59% of 16 year-olds gained a Grade C in Maths, and 65% in English. The report’s compilers have forgotten that 25 years ago a GCSE C was supposed to show above-average ability. Now it is described as a benchmark and any pupil that doesn’t achieve it is regarded as unfit for employment. Hong Kong, one of the top-performing nations in the PISA tests, set Grade E as the minimum standard for employment until it abolished GCSE/O level type exams in 2012.
Paradoxically, it is the drive for every-more increasing results that is encouraging schools to neglect the self-management skills employers require. Universities shared the same concern: a recent survey found that undergraduates, among other things, lacked the ability to handle self-directed study. Universities were in no doubt about the reason – 90% cited teaching-to-the-test as the main cause of undergraduates’ unpreparedness.
In its 2011 Economic Survey of the UK, the OECD warned that the disproportionate weight on test results in England risked not just spoon feeding for the exam but the neglect of those skills essential for life after school. Unfortunately, the CBI report reflects this excessive emphasis.
Inexcusably, the report cited the 2000 PISA results for the UK. These have been discounted by the OECD which, regular readers will know, has warned against the 2000 data being used for comparison. It also expressed concern about the low numbers achieving EBacc forgetting that when the 2011 GCSE cohort began their courses in 2009 this performance measure only existed, if at all, in the head of the Shadow Secretary of State for Education.
The report confirmed that the trend away from double science began two years before the last Government left power. It noted that there was a sharp rise in the number of pupils taking separate sciences at GCSE in 2010 which increased again in 2011. This is a point well remembering when Mr Gove tries to take credit for this.
Employers rightly condemned the poor foreign language skills in the UK. Other countries expect school leavers to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language and 72% of businesses said they valued this skill. The languages highlighted were (in descending order with the most frequently-cited first): German, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Polish and Arabic.
The CBI/Pearson report is a useful insight into employers’ views. Unfortunately, like so many of these reports, the media uses it to damn state education. Genuine concerns are turned into sticks with which to beat schools and teachers. Valuable lessons are lost.