Editorial - Gerard Kelly

1st July 2011 at 01:00
Employers find school-leavers wanting, but are they looking in the right place for solutions?

Chivalry. That's clearly what our young people lack. Or that is what the great and the good thought our youth were short of in 1934 when they argued that it needed to be taught (page 21). Chivalry lessons would have really helped teenagers who had to face Mussolini, Tojo and Hitler a few years later. Fortunately, plans to inculcate Arthurian gallantry into a generation of feckless youngsters came to nothing. But the tradition of well-intentioned kite-flying is alive and well.

It is a peculiar feature of our society that the world and his wife believe they have the answer to our educational problems and that teachers are clueless. British business, which bestrides the globe like a colossus, is no different and not shy of telling schools where they are going wrong (pages 26-27). British education has tended to refrain from returning the compliment, though its reputation worldwide is arguably better.

Perhaps schools should be grateful for the attention. Despite recent improvement (FE Focus, page 2), industry involvement in training and education in the UK has been meagre. Not only has research spend by British companies lagged behind that of our competitors, but their record in training is abysmal. According to a report from the London School of Economics last year, only 8 per cent of employers in England offered any apprenticeships, the lowest of any country surveyed. A third of employers did so in Australia and a quarter in Germany.

A cynic would be inclined to think that Britain's employers find it easier to detect motes in the eyes of our schools than planks poking out of their own sockets. It is far cheaper to lambast schools for their failings than cough up serious money for training. And what objective evidence do we have that school-leavers are largely illiterate, innumerate and unprepared for the world of work? Er, none. Apart from the surveys from employers stating that that is indeed the case.

However, even a cynic would concede that the range of skills and aptitudes pupils need to cope with an increasingly complex world will only widen. We also know that the proportion of teenagers not in education, employment or training has remained static at 8-10 per cent for a decade or more. One in 10 of our school-leavers is virtually unemployable. That is a serious and justified indictment of our education system. But it is not the whole, or a typical picture.

The wish-list suggested by business in our pages isn't unreasonable. Who could disagree that pupils should have core knowledge in key subjects and be confident, enthusiastic, inquisitive, forensic, resilient and adventurous? All the things British business is. But perhaps leaders should ask themselves if this can be delivered by an education system judged solely by exam results and by one that is routinely, blithely and unfairly dismissed as not fit for purpose?


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