What did employers say about school leavers?

Janet Downs's picture
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.


Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 26/06/2012 - 19:15

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.

People have every right to be concerned to discover that so few students were studying a broad and balanced set of traditional academic subjects.

EBacc in 2010 was a snapshot, not a target. The snapshot revealed an alarming state of affairs.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 26/06/2012 - 20:19

"EBacc in 2010 was a snapshot, not a target. The snapshot revealed an alarming state of affairs."

No it didn't. It's far to superficial to reveal anything apart form Ebacc scores which show naff all of real relevance.

You have to be very clear what it is you want to understand before you decide how you're going to measure things which will give you insight into that issue. Michael Gove didn't understand this which is hardly surprising given his level of experience in managing complex systems and in research.

He could have avoided this mess up if he'd listened to his professional advisers instead of painting them all as being self-interested socialist ideologues, getting rid of them and replacing them with inexperienced puppies who do precisely what they're told because they're too ignorant to realise it's stupid.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 27/06/2012 - 06:10

Rebecca - I often wonder what would be the reaction if a future government decided to cast a retrospective glance at schools and judge them according to criteria which didn't exist at the time. For example, if a future government thought that all schools should have been offering, say, vocational exams which covered the skills that the CBI have identified as being what employers want, then it could establish a new performance measure, the EVocc, and apply it retrospectively.

The retrospective application of the EVocc and the sudden about-turn in courses offered in secondary schools should result in an outcry. However, when Gove did exactly the same thing it was hailed as a good thing (even though the Education Select Committee didn't think so but they, like others who don't agree with Gove are ignored).

Of course, it doesn't have to be an EVocc. It could be EPash (personal, social and health education), or ECCF (to rank schools according to whether they have a Combined Cadet Force). Whatever it is, the important thing would be to apply it retrospectively and then crow about how this new performance measure has improved standards.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 26/06/2012 - 20:21

If you get a job as, say, a medical secretary, you have to take a course to boost your literacy in the specific area of medical vocabulary. I wonder if this is the kind of literacy course this report relates to?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 27/06/2012 - 05:52

Rebecca - that question has nagged at me. What is the content of these "remedial" literacy courses? Your point about industry specific vocabulary is important as are such things as house style and filing systems. Some commentators take this training to be confined to spelling and grammar like the Mail when it loudly proclaimed that undergraduates were having to receive lessons in basic grammar when the writing courses offered contained far more than that (including the minefield of how to cite references).


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 27/06/2012 - 06:24

Legal secretaries also have to learn vocabulary and spelling.

Companies working with substantial migrant or immigrant populations may need to lay on English classes.

I've never heard of an employer running basic general literacy classes to catch up for schooling. Has anyone else?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 27/06/2012 - 13:41

Rebecca - there's a storyline on "Emmerdale" about a mother who tried to hide her inability to read with unfortunate consequences for her employer. However, when her boss found she couldn't read he arranged for her to have lessons. The reason she couldn't read was because her mother had kept her off school to help in the home.

No doubt Gove would say, "No excuses! The school's to blame!"

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 27/06/2012 - 09:13

I’ve never heard of an employer running basic general literacy classes to catch up for schooling. Has anyone else?

Yes. I've visited a several of them. They were brilliant and really made a difference. I met one woman who, for ten years after leaving school, whenever she needed to fill in a form or pay a bill at the Post Office, used to pretend she'd got really bad eyesight and had left her glasses at home so the counter clerk would do all the reading and writing for her. I will never forget that woman's joy when she managed to a passport application all on her own.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 27/06/2012 - 15:09

Have you been to any which are targeted at recent school leavers who have had a coherent education (i.e. they've actually been to school here) and have English as a native language?

My grandmother was illiterate so I already have a reasonable degree of insight into the issues associated with illiteracy and the most obvious corollary of that is that it used to be quite common and is now exceptionally rare and where it exists in people under 40 there are usually very obvious reasons why it exists which are to do with non-attendance of school, second language issues, medical issues, severe special needs and so on. There may be some people rather younger than this who suffered because of severe dyslexia but even this is rare now.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.