`Education is about life and work, not qualifications'

10th April 2015 at 01:00
Literacy matters more than league tables, employers say

Schools should be ranked by their students' literacy levels rather than their qualifications, according to a leading employers' association.

David Watt, director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, said the discussion around the attainment of Scottish young people should "focus on outcomes, not qualifications".

"On the question of positive outcomes for young people," he said, "education is about life and work, not qualifications."

Mr Watt told the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee that his organisation believed something had to be done about the number of young people currently leaving school without basic skills.

He suggested the introduction of a "literacy league table to ensure that schools do not let young people leave until they can read and write".

"This is a serious matter," Mr Watt continued. "Employers genuinely tell me all the time that the issue is basic literacy. Most employers do not want or expect anyone - whether they come from school, college, university or wherever - to be ready to do the job, but they expect them to be ready to work."

Up to the job?

Mr Watt's comments were gathered as evidence for the committee's exploration of the attainment gap in education.

Employers have repeatedly voiced concerns about the basic skills of young people entering the workplace. In a Skills Pulse Survey carried out by Skills Development Scotland in 2013, employers called for a stronger focus on literacy, numeracy and other core skills. This was still cited by employers as an issue in last year's survey, albeit by fewer than the previous year.

Speaking at the same evidence session, Allan Watt, director of the Prince's Trust Scotland, said that young people had told him they thought it would be interesting if headteachers in Scotland were "performance-managed on the basis of how many pupils got jobs".

Professor Tommy MacKay, a psychologist and expert on literacy, was instrumental in setting up the West Dunbartonshire Literacy Initiative in 1997, which was credited with eradicating illiteracy in school-leavers in 10 years. He told TESS: "What was done in West Dunbartonshire at council level could be done at national level. In this society illiteracy is intolerable. We therefore have a duty not to tolerate it, as well as the knowledge and methodology to address it comprehensively."

He added: "There is a major issue regarding basic literacy. What all the international statistics mask is the stark reality that every year thousands of our young people leave UK secondary schools without the basic level of literacy required to function effectively in society.

"It is not a matter of carrying out new research or designing new interventions. We know exactly what should be done, when it should be done and how it should be done."

Mike Corbett, former president and national executive member of the NASUWT Scotland teaching union, and an English teacher, said Mr Watt's comments seemed "rather curious, given the fundamental focus on literacy as part of Curriculum for Excellence".

"One of the key aims of CfE is to try and get all pupils up to, or beyond, a basic level of literacy by the end the broad general education in S3," he said.

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