We always told them school-leavers lacked skills

20th February 2004 at 00:00
When I was at the Institute of Directors, employers were telling us all the time that school-leavers were coming to them with GCSEs but no numeracy and literacy skills. But when I said this to the Government I had a heap of abuse thrown at me.

The teachers used to abuse us, too, saying we were denigrating pupils.

Don't shoot the messenger, I'd say. Good for Mike Tomlinson for saying these things. It's a devastating critique of exams.

I think Mr Tomlinson has done well to recognise the problems that employers and universities face - the lack of challenge from GCSEs and the lack of discrimination in awarding the top A-level grades. But I was dismayed at the proposal of major structural change to the framework. That's the last thing on earth employers and teachers want.

Having exams at 16 and 18 is not a bad thing. It is a mistake to have them every year, so get rid of AS-levels. But keep GCSEs and A-levels. When I saw the diploma structure my hair stood on end. Employers will have the screaming ab dabs because it's so confusing.

I am delighted that key skills are emphasised but a whole-scale revolution of the system will not be welcomed. The exams we have are recognised, so we don't want to throw the whole thing up.

Ruth Lea, the director of right-wing think tank the Centre for Policy Studies and former head of policy at the Institute of Directors

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