Out-of-date figures used to support exam reform – not such a “brilliant” speech

Janet Downs's picture
“A 2012 survey by the CBI…found that 42% of businesses were not satisfied with the literacy of school leavers who joined them, and 35% were not satisfied with the maths ability of school leavers,” said ex-schools minister, Nick Gibb, in a speech described as “brilliant” by Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

But are these figures correct?

In 2012, the number of businesses expressing dissatisfaction with the standard of literacy among school and college leavers was 35%. 30% were not satisfied with numeracy. Gibb was cited out-of-date figures from the CBI report of 2011.

The level of dissatisfaction with school leavers' literacy and numeracy reported by businesses was lower in 2012 than 2011.

In 2012, more employers were concerned about literacy and numeracy levels among existing employees than with the abilities of school/college leavers. 56% of them were not satisfied with existing employees’ literacy, 55% dissatisfied with numeracy, and 66% unhappy with IT skills.

Literacy and numeracy levels were not the main concerns that employers had about school/college leavers although these are the most publicised. They were more concerned with self-management skills (61%), attitude towards work (37%) and business and customer awareness (69%). Whether “customer awareness” is the responsibility of schools is debatable. But business studies, an optional subject in any case, is being further marginalized by the Ebacc. And self-management is not encouraged by cramming pupils with stuff likely to get them through high-stakes exams. Universities in 2012 were particularly worried about this “spoon feeding” which was cited by 90% of lecturers as contributing to undergraduates’ unpreparedness.

Michael Gove thinks his proposed exam system will be an improvement on the present one. Gibb uses the CBI to back up this point-of-view. But the CBI says “it is at 18 not 16 that we should be thinking in terms of externally marked, high value qualifications.”

If England’s exam system is really to match the world’s best then it needs to move towards graduation at 18*. Instead of looking at what most of the rest of the world does (apart from perhaps Singapore), an ex-schools minister quotes out-of-date figures and Michael Gove praises him.

*See faq above What are the examination systems in other countries?

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