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'We should value creativity'

School-leavers' lack of basic skills hide other talents that businesses should learn to appreciate, says software executive

Business people should stop carping about alleged deficiencies in English and maths in teenagers and recognise the creative potential of a new generation, a leading corporate figure has said.

Ian Smith, UK head of the software firm Oracle, accused firms of living in the past if they believed that basic skills were all that mattered in their recruits.

He said the obsession with exam results was damaging Britain's education system and instilling a climate of fear in teachers which was unlikely to improve performance in the long run.

Mr Smith's attack comes after the CBI, the business pressure group, claimed that too many school-leavers were failing to master literacy and numeracy, despite years of rising results.

A survey of 412 employers by the Learning and Skills Council found most said they would pay more for recruits with five good GCSEs. Less than half of 16-year-olds achieve C or better in English and maths.

Mr Smith said employers need to think laterally: valuing the creativity that students exhibit while they are searching the internet for information, or easily communicating with their peers from around the globe in chatrooms.

He said: "If you are a young person, why would you go and work for a business, when all you hear and read is that they do not think you have the appropriate skills for them?

"Instead, business should be saying that we feel fantastically excited about this new generation, which has the skills that other young customers in our global economy want."

Literacy and numeracy were important, he said. But the focus on the three Rs was the same mantra businesses were repeating 50 years ago, and reflected what today's executives needed when they entered the workplace.

Now, young entrepreneurs could make millions while barely out of their teens, whatever their exam grades, by coming up with technological ideas which had never occurred to their supposed elders-and-betters.

Some inventive youngsters might be dyslexic, and stood to be turned off by employers' obsession with literacy, he added. Mr Smith, 58, who is on a taskforce which is designing a vocational diploma in "e-skills", questioned whether years of rising exam results were a symbol of success in schools.

He said businesses which focused so narrowly on year-on-year results would not succeed in the long run because they were afraid to take any risk which could damage their short-term bottom line.

Companies were moving away from this obsession with single indicators and towards a more "balanced" approach, where customer satisfaction was as important as short-run turnover and profit figures. He said: "The danger is that you try to achieve the goal (of improving results) at any cost.

"If you want to be creative, and entrepreneurial, and successful in the long run, that is not the way to do it."

* warwick.mansell@tes.co.uk

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