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Industry talks tough on targets

Heads of industry are demanding higher targets for graduate recruitment and basic skills training for all school and college pupils in a bid to raise standards in the workplace for the 21st century.

The Confederation of British Industry pressed ministers at its annual conference in Birmingham this week to set two new national targets. The narrowness of A-levels and the failure to include core literacy, numeracy and computer skills both came under attack during debates.

By 2000, the CBI wants 40 per cent of all school and college leavers to be entering higher education. It is also calling for all courses for lifelong education and training to include the three basic skills.

Ministers are also under pressure from the National Commission on Education to have a "foundation" target for 11-year-olds to be reached by nine out of 10 primary school leavers within six years.

This is one of seven targets called for by the commission, covering five stages of education and training (at 11, 16, 21, 24 and beyond to lifelong learning). The commission goes a step beyond the CBI in calling for 45 per cent of 24-year-olds to be graduates.

The flurry of demands is the result of the targets consultation exercise undertaken with Government backing since the launch of national targets.

More than 8,000 national and local organisations were involved in plans radically to revise the eight national education and training targets launched by the CBI four years ago and later endorsed by the Government.

No sooner were the targets accepted than they were out of date - either they would be too easily reached or competitor countries had set even tougher targets.

Full details of the revisions are unlikely to be known before at least late January. But evidence from a series of regional seminars and some returns of questionnaires give an early indication what the revisions will be.

If the Government's National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets is to satisfy the demands of all bodies, it would require at least 30 broad national aims - an unwieldy programme which it is certain to avoid.

For example, the Equal Opportunities Commission is calling for a national commitment to training men and women equally. In its submission to the council it points out that only 31 per cent of women have higher level qualifications compared with 43.5 per cent of men.

The targets currently involve getting 80 per cent of young people to National Vocational Qualification level 2 (GCSE) by 1997 and 50 per cent of young people and the wider workforce to A-level equivalent (NVQ level 3) by 2000. Others aim to improve management and boost individual self-reliance.

Revised targets out for consultation aim to raise the GCSE-equivalent achievements to 85 per cent and the A-level equivalents to between 60 and 70 per cent of young people.

There was enthusiasm for these targets from all education groups represented at the seminars. However, they urged that the A-level target should be viewed with caution. Depending on the wider consultations, this target looks likely to be agreed at around two-thirds of young leavers.

Commenting on the early indications, Martyn Waring, director of the NCETT, said: "A major focus of discussion has been on how to get the balance right between setting targets sufficiently high to improve our international competitiveness, whilst keeping them at levels which are seen as attainable and credible."

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