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Getting it right the first time

The Confederation of British Industry will launch a campaign against under-achievement in primary schools next month.

A briefing paper to members will ask these salient questions, says Tony Webb, CBI education officer: Are we going wrong? Could standards be higher? If so, how? How do we compare with internationally?

"The business ethic that rules us is, get the thing right the first time, " he said. "Some of the problems that have emerged at secondary school level are clearly due to things going on at the primary stage.

"There is some excellent teaching but there is some suggestion that there has not been a noticeable improvement in standards overall."

The CBI is in no doubt that a highly-skilled workforce needs a secure educational foundation. But so far it has concentrated its fire on secondary schools and post-16 problems.

It has published consultation documents looking at options for reform, identifying priority targets and efficiency gains. It has speculated on how much could be gained by, for example, reducing surplus places, improving teaching methods and information technology, and better management of the system. It has stopped short of saying whether budgets are adequate.

FE colleges are facing problems which should have been tackled from the start, said Mr Webb. "One-third of young people at the age of nine do not get to the national curriculum benchmark, and there's also an issue of a tail beyond that. We want to know if we are spending enough, could it be distributed better and are we getting added value?" The second issue the CBI thinks is important is getting young people prepared for the transition to work. The Dearing review identified three different pathways and said that individuals needed to be treated differently. "Some people are not ready for work and we must recognise that slow learners need more time and more space," said Mr Webb.

The Investors in People initiative is one the CBI thinks should be encouraged. "It has been enormously successful as a vehicle for helping organisations to ensure they assume good practice in education and training," said Mr Webb.

"The key priority would be to get smaller organisations in. Some have not got into the training habit and will need extra help, and we hope this will be available. The Government has a role here in providing modest pump-priming. This is very important if we want to extend the concept of lifetime learning.

"There should also be a major marketing drive to promote NVQs. It is important that employers want them and individuals want them.

"We think that targeted individual learning accounts for those not in the learning game could be valuable, especially for those not ready for the employment market.

"They can help adults who are unemployed but who lack the basic skills to set them up on the right route. They can also be used to enhance their basic skills. We should like the government to promote the gradual development of targeted accounts, with pilots first."

Most important of all for the CBI is the framework of national education and training targets. "If you cannot measure something, you cannot manage it. We are delighted the national targets have been adopted and provide a framework for government policy supported by all the political parties," said Mr Webb.

The CBI would like to see Modern Apprenticeships extended and a form of national traineeships would also be welcome. Their emphasis on the key skills is very popular with employers. They want a government that encourages a training and learning culture. Business likes to see champions, and IIP is seen is as one of the vehicles to encourage this approach.

A skills passport or national record of achievement remains high on the agenda. "A skills passport sends a message to everybody that if you mean to succeed in the 21st century, this is what you have achieved and this is the plan of action for your future learning goals."

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