More than a quarter of employers provide remedial training to “some” school/college leavers, says CBI, but is this correct? And how many is “some”?

Janet Downs's picture
More than a quarter (28%) of employers provided training in at least one basic skill for “some young people joining from school or college”, said the CBI.

But is this figure correct? Here’s the data:

22% provided literacy training
19% provided numeracy training
13% provided IT training

It would be more correct to say “less than a quarter of employers provided basic skill training for school/college leavers”. And we don’t know what is meant by “some young people”. If an employer hires ten young people and provides training for two of them, is this a sign that schools are failing? And if the employer does indeed have to provide training for, say, nine, is this more a sign of poor recruitment?

At least the CBI hasn’t made the same mistake that politicians sometimes make. It didn’t add up the three figures and say “54% of employers provide basic skills training to school/college leavers”.

But any MP doing this is showing a lack of basic numerical skills. Let me explain:

If 22% offered literacy training, 78% did not. If 19% provided numeracy training, 81% did not. If 13% gave IT training, 87% did not.

If we use the same logic and add up the three figures, we see that 246% of employers did NOT provide training in at least one basic skill. That is, of course, impossible.

But how many employers were satisfied with school/college leavers’ basic skills? Findings included*

96% satisfied with IT skills
67% happy with attitude to work
64% satisfied with technical skills
64% with team working
62% with basic literacy
50% with basic numeracy
50% with problem solving.

We don’t know, of course, how each employer defined “basic” literacy and numeracy. The CBI thinks it knows. It complains about the proportion of GCSE candidates who didn’t achieve a C in English or Maths. But Grade C is NOT a sign of basic competence. Grades D-G demonstrate basic expertise as the Office for National Statistics makes clear.

The CBI has at last stopped using the discredited OECD PISA test results for the UK in 2000. Instead it uses PISA data from 2006 to say the UK has “stagnated”. But the CBI didn’t say the UK still scores above the OECD average in Science and the country’s league table position for Reading and Maths rose slightly in 2012. Neither did the CBI mention international test results (TIMSS, PIRLS) that give a more positive picture of the performance of English pupils.

Despite my quibbles with the data, the CBI has important points to make. Careers guidance in schools is NOT “fit for purpose”. An “undue emphasis on GCSE grades (or equivalent) and school league tables” DOES divert attention** from skills such as problem solving and teamwork. Employers ARE confused by the fragmentation of qualifications, their content and value.


The CBI says it wants young people to be “rigorous, rounded and grounded”. But offering a rounded education does not mean, as the CBI suggests, ensuring the content of qualifications is more relevant to business needs. It’s more important they are relevant to the needs of the child.

*For all findings see Exhibit 43 on page 49 of the report.

**ADDENDUM: Wales has decided to stop using 5 GCSEs C or above (including Maths and English) as a school performance measure . It’s introducing a “capped points” system instead from 2017. A Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas said the move was an admission by the Welsh Education Minister, Huw Lewis, that the school banding system based on the A*-C benchmark had "perverse incentives". But Thomas said, “Rather than constantly tweaking the banding system to get the outcomes he seeks, the Minister should abandon it all together."
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 04/07/2014 - 13:06

Gut Claxton states:

"“traditional mathematics teaching, effective at getting those vital Cs at GCSE, leave in student’s minds no discernible residue of real world utility”

“You can get good results in the arcane world of educational standards and still lack resilience, resourcefulness, and the ability to organise and evaluate your own learning”

Claxton is addressing what he sees as a deficit in 'capacity for leaning' and 'learning resilience'.

Shayer and Ginsberg find an 'Anti-Flynn' effect in pupil's problem solving abilities.

Shayer M & Ginsburg D, (2009), Thirty years on – a large anti-Flynn effect/ (II): 13- and 14-year-olds. Piagetian tests of formal operations norms 1976–2006/7. British Journal of Educational Psychology 79, 409–418

The Flynn Effect is the measured year on year increase in national IQ and Cognitive Ability Test scores that has taking for many decades.

There is evidence that this has gone into reverse in England in the period coinciding with the marketisation of the English education system and the consequent abandonment of 'slow thinking' developmental approaches to teaching and learning by schools in pursuit of league table and Ofsted endorsement.

And for some years now we have had employers saying the same thing. Note that they are not primarily complaining about the lack of GCSE qualifications in school leavers, but that they don't reflect the sorts of qualities needed in the modern workplace. It is not 'operatives' doing as they are told and getting on with the job, that employers are looking for.

Is this all a co-incidence, employers always complaining about schools, or further evidence for my central hypothesis that 'school improvement' in the terms that are driven by marketisation, is reducing educational standards?

Andy V's picture
Thu, 10/07/2014 - 14:39

While the message that CBI member companies are providing remedial training in literacy, numeracy and ICT is both a disappointment and cause for concern the absence of real detail serves to muddy the waters. See page 35 of the link Janet provides in the headline piece for the reported details. What is not reported are the real nitty gritty details e.g. how many employees under each category - citing a %age providing training is an intangible message. It cannot be taken as read that the %age of school leavers failing to attain GCSE C+ in E, M and/or ICT equates directly to the figures cited by the CBI (e.g. no abstraction for NEETS). Equally, the same can be said for graduates (former A level school leavers). Not quoting the following analysis makes the overall data suspect and somewhat lacking in substance (bordering on an example of statistics being lies, lies and damn lies):

1. The number of school leavers and graduates involved
2. The number of companies and geographic location
3. Where the employee went to school
4. The breakdown between former state and private school educated employees requiring remedial training
5. Is the remedial training across the board or does it spike in particular types of employment

This is anecdotal I know but through personal contact with HE and I seem to recall reports based on HE earlier in the year, there is growing concern about the same issues with UK undergraduates from both the state and private sectors.

It is also noteworthy that the single largest representative of employers (SME level), the Federation of Small Businesses that has more members that the CBI and IOD combined, has no partnership or collaborative association with the CBI on this survey. For me this is another weakness in the findings.

There is much that could be had from a more comprehensive coverage with greater detail (e.g. identifying geographically based educational attainment weak and strength areas, issues with undergraduate qualifications either per se and/or geographically, identifying the correlated strengths and weakness of private and state schools at both level 2 and 3 qualifications).

Sadly, then, for me the CBI report is an opportunity lost and is an example of its lobbying prowess as opposed to the substance of its content and evidence in relation to this topic. To quote from their website:

"We deliver results for business by lobbying and campaigning"

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