Number of school leavers needing remedial lessons falls, says CBI, but not enough young people leave school with work experience

Janet Downs's picture
Employers’ satisfaction with school leavers’ basic literacy rose from 65% in 2012 to 68% this year, according to the 2013 CBI/Pearson report. Satisfaction with numeracy skills fell from 70% to 69%. At the same time, the proportion of employers providing remedial training for school college leavers dropped:

15% provided training in Literacy/use of English (20% in 2012);

14% provided remedial lessons in numeracy (18% in 2012)

13% provided remedial training in IT (23% in 2012).

55% of employers expressed concern with school leavers’ work experience. This will get worse, employers said, because the Government has removed the legal requirement for schools to provide work experience to 15/16 year-olds.

54% of employers were dissatisfied with young people’s personal qualities such as self-management and 35% were not satisfied with their attitude to work. Employers believed schools and colleges should develop work awareness and work-related skills. (This was the rationale behind the Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative 25 years ago. TVEI was successful in raising the profile of work-related education. But it appears progress made then has been undone in recent years.)

The majority of employers believe careers advice in schools is not good enough. (This is a recurring theme.)

What of the young people themselves? Their attitudes were surveyed for the first time: 31% did not feel confident they had appropriate skills and 71% complained they had insufficient work experience.

Author’s comments

The results of the annual CBI/Pearson report are trusted, widely reported and quoted in Parliament (not always accurately).

But the report makes the error of assuming pupils who don’t achieve the benchmark 5 GCSEs including Maths and English have failed and this is a sign that schools are failing. This is untrue. GCSE grades D-G are passes and allow entry into Level 1 jobs (ONS). The CBI is correct that demand is growing for people with higher level skills for higher level jobs. But, according to FullFact, two elementary level jobs buck this trend: customer service and basic administration. At the same time, the DfE expects pupils who leave primary school with Level 3 to achieve GCSE grade D – it recognises that it’s unrealistic to expect previously low-attaining pupils to reach the benchmark.

The CBI also makes the mistake of comparing the 2009 PISA* for the UK with those from 2000. This is inexcusable. The OECD said the 2000 UK results were flawed and should not be used for comparison and the UK Statistics Watchdog censured the Government for continuing to use the data.

That said, it’s encouraging that employers’ satisfaction with school leavers’ literacy levels has risen although the proportion satisfied with numeracy remains static. The number of employers providing remedial lessons to school/college leavers has dropped although this might be because employers are hiring better qualified school leavers.

And that’s the problem with the “remedial lessons” data – we don’t know the calibre of job or the quality of applicants. When unemployment among young people is high, then better-qualified young people may consider jobs they would previously have shunned. But when these young people find better jobs or go off to university, then employers have to recruit school leavers from the lower end of the achievement range. These are the pupils more likely to need remedial lessons – it’s not necessarily a reflection on the whole education system.

Words in brackets in main text are the author’s comments

*Programme for International Student Assessment tests are set every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

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