Employer groups such as the CBI should be “attacked” for calling for young people to be “work ready” by the time they leave school, according to the man who led the government’s last national curriculum review.
Tim Oates, director of research at exam group Cambridge Assessment, warned against business leaders using their influence to make “absurd” claims about how education should work in this country.
“The notion that kids should be 'work ready' from school, and the constant champing of the CBI of this absurd proposition really needs to be attacked by all of us,” Mr Oates said.
And he added: “It is an absurd attack on the function of general education, it puts education in quite the wrong role, and it puts unnatural expectations on young people.”
Mr Oates was speaking at a joint seminar of the Business, Innovation and Skills and Education select committees in Westminster.
In July last year, both the CBI and Pearson issued a report carrying a survey of business leaders, which said the education system needed to provide students with the “attitudes and attributes” needed for the workplace.
Mr Oates’ claims led Rod Bristow, president of core markets at Pearson, to challenge Mr Oates from the audience, stating that the CBI was more concerned about “general skills” possessed by young people.
“Rather than sector-specific skills, the CBI wants harder-edge skills such as numeracy and literacy. But it also wants the softer skills, like leadership, communication and, increasingly, character traits such as humility, integrity etc,” Mr Bristow said.
“Tim may dismiss them, but if you read what employers are asking for it’s that, and so too are students and parents.”
Mr Oates retorted: “I find it entertaining employers’ organisations saying what employers want but I don’t pay much attention to it, because I pay attention to what employers are actually paying for.”
A CBI spokesperson said: "We do not recognise Mr Oates characterisation of CBI policy. The CBI is clear that the role of schools is to prepare young people for their adult life across a range of factors, not supply specific technical skills. But that range of options should include more choice of high quality subjects than is currently on offer - including applied options."