By Daniel Hunter
The Forum of Private Business has welcomed the announcement by Michael Gove that GCSEs could be scrapped in favour of a system more akin to the former O-level.
The new system, the first exams of which could be sat as soon as 2015 in English, maths and the sciences, should help to raise standards of education in the core subjects which have long been in decline, the not-for-profit employer support group has said.
“We know businesses have long felt let down by the current GCSE system, which in far too many cases has failed to teach youngsters even the most basic of skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic,” said the Forum’s Senior Policy Adviser, Alex Jackman.
“Only recently there were media reports of a major supermarket having to send recent school leavers back to the classroom to improve sub-standard levels of English and maths. That’s not right.
“There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest exam boards are tempting schools to use their specific papers with the promise of higher pass rates, achieved by dumbing down questions just to win their business. This has created a ‘race to the bottom’ in effect which has inevitably seen standards plummet. This too, is not right.
“It sounds very much like the new exam being suggested by Mr Gove will focus much more on the core subjects and fewer peripheral ones. This should mean pupils will leave school with a greater grasp and understanding of the ‘three Rs’.
“Hopefully the days of pupils sitting 13 or 14 exams will hopefully soon be gone — being Jack of all trades but master of none is of little use to pupils entering the world of work. Most businesses don’t need staff with a GCSE in global citizenship or needlework, they need work-ready employees who can write a properly punctuated sentence free from spelling mistakes, and mentally able to work out a simple maths problem.”
However, the Forum warned that the Government must not place too much of an emphasis on academic achievements alone.
Jackman, who last week gave evidence at a Parliamentary Select Committee looking at youth unemployment, added: “While we would welcome changes to the GCSE model, the Government must not diminish the importance of vocational courses which are equally important in the eyes of industry.
“At a time when ministers are seeking to rebalance the economy back towards manufacturing it would be madness to simply concentrate more on academic subjects as the solution to declining standards in education.
“Education is about focusing a person’s talents on the areas where they can excel best, so pupils who are gifted in more hands-on subjects should be encouraged and nurtured as much as those who are adept at number crunching.
“To service British business we need a well-rounded workforce with the necessary skills and crafts to help grease the wheels of the economy. Now more than ever with the economic threat from the developing nations we need the best pupils with the best education and the best skills to enter the workplace and hit the ground running.”
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