The moving employer bullseye for GCSEs

This years GCSE results have brought forth the usual comment and think pieces about the exact value and worth of exam grades on sign posting a young person’s future success. One of the most important voices in this period to shape the debate is always the CBI, the employer body with the ear of Government and seemingly the widest PR reach.

Their GCSE response this year bemoans, among other things, the removal of speaking and listening from the final English grades and how that, “more must be done to ensure a GCSE pass is an accurate measure of not just how well a young person does in the exam hall, but also the skills they can bring to the workplace.” They also request that, “schools should be judged not only on their position in the league tables, but how well-prepared young people are for life beyond the classroom” acknowledging the power that league tables have on school decision-making. Estelle Morris makes a similar point today in the Guardian,

“On the one hand, we bemoan a culture that only values the things that can be measured and we fret about the pressures placed on “the most examined generation of children”. Yet, on the other, when it is our children or our school, exams are hugely influential on the decisions we make.”

Seemingly this is true not just on the decisions education or parents make, but also on the decisions employers make

We all know the stories of the fantastically successful entrepreneur who left school with only a frayed tie and some crumpled detention slips to their name but, it seems, the odds are severely against these outliers.

Which takes me back to the CBI. Their call this year for more rounded school leavers, equipped with those vital employability skills (and a system that recognises schools progress towards achieving this) would find many agreeing murmurs from the Careers sector (even without mentioning their joint desire to see improvement in CEIAG) but it also shows how their view on exams results is evolving over time.

The 2013 CBI response also had an axe to grind (this time against early entries which brought a quick reaction from the DfE) but did try to bridge the gap between the importance of results and the importance of wider skills,

The plan to make GCSEs tougher, although necessary, is not an end in itself

Going back further, the 2012 CBI response acknowledges how changes in the system were then affecting pass rates but places the importance on attainment and standards,

“Improving attainment in our schools is critical to the future success of our economy and society. Raising ambition and aspiration for all should be the focus of our school system. Creating a thirst for learning and delivering a rigorous, meaningful curriculum is a national priority, which needs to be urgently tackled.”

While in 2011, the response the focus is solely placed on numeracy and literacy skills,

“It’s good to see the proportion achieving a C or above in Maths and English continuing to rise. Being able to show you have good ability in reading, writing and maths is more important than ever and opens the door to work or further study.

“However, too many students are still failing to pass Maths GCSE.

“With the highest number of young people for five years not in education, employment or training, we cannot afford for young people to miss out on basic Maths skills.

While there is a slightly Sisyphean nature to these evolving targets for GCSE exams to hit, now that many of the GCSE and league table reforms enacted by the DfE during this parliament are in place with the support of the CBI this call for a wider skills recognition and greater emphasis on preparation for a working life is a theme that will grow as we move towards the 2015 election (witness Tristram’s Hunt character education focus) and one that should benefit CEIAG in schools.

 

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