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30 December 2002

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Directors demand better education rather than exam changes

The government should concentrate on improving literacy and numeracy skills rather than fiddling around with the examinations system and trying to push more people into higher education, say company directors in Cambridgeshire.

“With a fifth of the UK workforce functionally illiterate and innumerate, it is illogical for the government to be spending time and resources in an endeavour to hit a superficial target of having 50 per cent of 18-30 year olds gaining a higher education qualification by 2010,” said David Laking, a committee member with the Eastern Branch of the Institute of Directors (IoD).

Commenting on the government’s latest Green Paper proposals for the future of education, Mr Laking said: “The government should be focusing relentlessly on what should be the core objective of the British education system - promoting high academic standards and high levels of attainment.”

He said that targets to put 50 per cent of young people through higher education and the promotion of AS examinations at the expense of GCSEs were ‘red herrings’ compared with the primary issues. He also opposed proposals to introduce a new Matriculation Diploma that would summarise each pupil’s accomplishments on completion of the 14-19 years phase.

“From an employer’s point of view Matriculation Diplomas would merely repeat information that would normally be included in CVs or on job application forms,” he said.

“Pupils should generally take GCSEs because they provide evidence that they have received a basic education and because they provide a useful platform for further progression. If GCSEs are considered insufficiently challenging for able students they should be made more difficult.

“AS levels appear to have increased pressure on school timetables and on students and the extent to which employers and universities value them is highly questionable. They should be abolished.”

However, Mr Laking welcomed proposals to retain a slimmed down national curriculum - with English, mathematics, science and information and communications technology as the core subjects for pupils aged between 14 and 16.

He also approved of a plan to extend the range of vocational options for pupils after the age of 14 together with the introduction of GCSE examinations in vocational subjects. “Vocational courses and qualifications must be demanding if the UK is going to develop a successful vocational education stream,” he said. “The subjects must be supported by high quality tuition and adequate resources if they are to earn the respect of employers.”

Mr Laking said that it was incongruous for the government to push for 50 per cent of young people to aim for higher education when its own research revealed that a fifth of the workforce is illiterate and innumerate. British workers are significantly less well qualified than their German counterparts, while Britain has one of the highest proportions of 21-year-olds graduating among advanced industrialised countries.

April 2002




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