Debate needed about basic skills

Two of your reports last week, "We should value creativity" and "Failure at GCSE is no bar to jobs" (FE Focus, September 1) suggest that a debate is needed about what business is looking for in school-leavers and exactly what is meant by "basic skills".

Employers use CVs and GCSE results as a coarse filter to reduce a long list of candidates to a short one. They presume that without GCSEs, candidates will probably also lack the cognitive, interpersonal and behavioural skills they are really looking for. They do this in the full knowledge that they are almost certainly eliminating some potentially good candidates, but interviews are an expensive and time-consuming chore.

Beyond the ability to read and write and do simple arithmetic, my list of employment skills for school-leavers comprises: honesty, reliability (turning up on time, every time), social skills (including the ability to talk civilly and clearly to colleagues, supervisors, suppliers and clients whether face-to-face or by phone), imaginationcreativity, energy and a modicum of initiative, plus manual dexterity or hand-eye co-ordination, if appropriate. Given these "basic skills", most employers will be happy to teach the rest - technical, organisational, operative and so on - either directly or through further education.

Such a discussion would complement the debate that I and my co-author, Jonathan Langdale, hope to generate with our book, Chance of a Lifetime, which asks fundamental questions about what education is for and why it has become synonymous with schooling.

John Harrison. Business training consultant Iden Rye, East Sussex

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