Memorandum submitted by the Confederation
of British Industry (CBI)
1. As the UK's leading business organisation,
the CBI speaks for some 240,000 businesses that together employ
around a third of the private sector workforce, covering the full
spectrum of business interests both by size and sector. The CBI
understands the Committee's wish to examine the current the testing
system, and the role of the testing and assessment regime in ensuring
accountability and raising standards.
2. CBI members are committed to investing
in the skills of their employees. In a global economy characterised
by rapid change, young people need to have transferable skills
to ensure their continued employability. The UK must have an education
system which produces young people with the skills employers need,
so that we have a world-class workforce that can compete with
Europe, the US and Japan and the growing challenge from China
3. Employers value test and examination
results as a way to monitor the performance of our education system
in ensuring young people attain the skills they need for success
in life and in work. In this paper, we focus on the public examinations
taken between ages 16-19GCSEs and A-levels. Employers use
an individual's GCSE and A-level examination results as a good
indication of a young person's abilities, particularly during
the early stages of a person's career. However, employers are
also interested in the tests taken in schools by children at Key
Stages 1-3 as they provide an indication of whether educational
standards are improving. Such tests must provide an objective
and reliable measure of the standards achieved by pupils at crucial
stages in their development.
4. At present the CBI has two key concerns.
First, too many young people leave school without the necessary
literacy and numeracy skills to succeed in work and, secondly,
insufficient numbers of students leave school and go on to study
science, engineering and maths at university.
5. Problems with basic skills continue to
manifest themselves in the workplace20% of the current
workforce lack either the literacy or numeracy skills expected
of an 11 year old. It is estimated that lack of basic skills costs
the economy £10 billion per year. Employers invest £33
billion in training their staff every year and recognise their
responsibility in training their employees with job-specific skills.
But it is the Government's responsibility to ensure young people
leave the education system with the basic skills.
6. Business demand for Science, Technology,
Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills is high, but supply is not
keeping pace. Employers are concerned that the number of graduates
in key disciplines such as physical sciences or engineering is
falling. A third of businesses think raising the number of STEM
graduates should be a top priority for Government as jobs in these
sectors are set to expand. Whilst the number of science degrees
awarded at university has increased, the large rises in biological
and computer sciences hide a decline in physics and chemistry.
Falling numbers of STEM graduates can be traced back to the shortcomings
of school science: fewer students studying triple science; too
few schools with specialist chemistry and physics teachers; too
little time spent doing experiments; and patchy lab provision.
7. The focus on English, Mathematics and
Science in the curriculum and assessment regime is appropriate,
and reflects how important these subjects are to the future prospects
of young people. Employers' confidence in academic qualifications
is determined by the number of young people leaving education
with the skills that business needs. The CBI has been examining
trends on science qualifications because of concern about declining
number of students taking STEM degrees.
8. Finally, employers understand and recognise
GCSEs and A-levels and believe them to be world class qualifications.
But they remain deeply concerned about the number of school leavers
who have inadequate standards of literacy, numeracy and general
employability skills. The new vocational qualificationsthe
diplomaswill help to create the skilled and competent employees
business needs. Work-based qualifications must also be improved
so that they reflect the skills and competences employers need.
9. Employers are concerned that too many
young people leaving school at 16 do not have basic skills. Poor
literacy and numeracy skills damage people's quality of life and
their employment prospects. Those with poor basic skills are more
likely to suffer higher unemployment rates and low earnings, with
poorer chances of career progression and social exclusion. They
are also less likely to be fully effective in the workplace, damaging
the competitiveness of UK firms. According to the latest CBI/Pertemps
Employment Trends Survey nearly nine out of 10 employers (86%)
think that ensuring young people leave school with basic literacy
and numeracy should be the Government's top education priority.
10. The CBI/Pertemps Employment Trends Survey
2007 also found over half of employers were concerned with the
literacy levels (52%) and numeracy levels (50%) of school leavers.
Employers often find that they need to remedy deficits in the
basic skills of their employees. The survey also found that 15%
of employers had to give school leavers remedial training in numeracy,
and 13% in literacy.
Employers' dissatisfaction with school
leavers' key skills (%)
|Positive attitude to work||44
|Use of IT||8
11. Employers expect young people to enter the world
of work with the basic numeracy and literacy skills requiredin
practice this is the equivalent of a grade C or above in Maths
and English GCSE. Pass rates have increasedthe percentage
of pupils achieving a GCSE A*-C has increased from 57% in 1997
to 62% in 2007 in English and from 47% to 55% in Maths. But there
remains a significant proportion of pupils still underachieving
at GCSE level. In 2007, only 46% achieved five or more A*-C including
English and Maths and a fifth left school with no qualification
graded A*-C. This is a significant proportion of pupils who are
still underachieving at GCSE and this is a key concern.
12. Given employers' concern that young people are leaving
school without basic competency in literacy and numeracy, the
CBI undertook to explore the ways literacy and maths skills are
used in the workplace, and the shortfall in skills that employers
experience. This work, sponsored by the DfES, was designed to
identify the key functional skills needed by people at workand
the study was informed by survey and case study work. The final
CBI report, Working on the Three Rs, was published in 2006
and defined the functional literacy and numeracy skills necessary
to be competent in the world of work.
13. On literacy, the CBI report showed that reading basic
text is a vital skill for the workplace and that writing a short
report, with legible handwriting, is also essential. It is important
to consider reading and writing separately as they are different
skillsand they should be assessed separately too. To be
functionally literate, an individual must be able to:
read and understand basic texts;
construct properly spelt, grammatically correct
writing that is suitable for the audience;
write with legible handwriting;
understand oral communications and react
be sufficiently articulate to communicate
14. A good grasp of basic numeracy is also a vital tool
for work, and is used in a wide variety of contextsfrom
checking change in a supermarket to understanding performance
targets. The ability to interpret and respond to quantitative
data is also an essential skill for modern working lifethere
are charts, graphs and tables in most workplaces. It is important
that employees understand these in order to contribute to problem
solving and quality improvement and help create high performance
organisations. To be functionally numerate, an individual must
have confidence with:
multiplication tables and mental arithmetic;
percentages, ratios, fractions, decimals,
different measures and conversion between
spotting errors and rogue figures; and
odds and probabilities.
15. The CBI was delighted that the Government commissioned
the development of functional skills modules designed to test
the practical application of numeracy and literacybuilding
the skills people will need in everyday work and life situations.
These functional skills units will be incorporated into: English
and Maths GCSEs; the new diplomas and apprenticeships; in addition
to being available as `stand alone' qualifications. The functional
unitswhich will be taught from September 2010will
be offered at the standard of Level 2 (GCSE A*-C), Level 1 (GCSE
D-G), and entry level standards.
16. In 2005, the CBI set a minimum target of 90% of young
people achieve functional skills modules at Level 1 and 80% to
achieve a Level 2 by 2010. We were therefore pleased to see that
last year 90% achieved a Level 1 in functional literacy and numeracy.
However, employers do expect young people to have the skills commensurate
with a C or above at GCSE level (Level 2) and it is therefore
disappointing that we remain so far from achieving this target.
While functional skills modules within GCSEs offer a welcome strengthening
to the system, they cannot replace the goal of having more young
people achieving a C or above.
17. Employers also expect young people to have employability
skills. The CBI's Time Well Spent report published in 2007
identified the key transferable employability skills: self management,
team working, problem solving, communication, application of literacy,
business awareness, customer care, application of numeracy and
Information and Communication Technology (ICT). In 2007, 50% of
employers were dissatisfied with the employability skills of school
leavers67% were dissatisfied with the self-management skills
of school leavers whilst 92% were satisfied with their IT skills.
The Government intends to introduce Personal, Learning and Thinking
Skills modules to diplomas and apprenticeships. While these are
a step forward, these skills do not reflect employers' definition
of employability skills. The framework comprises of six groups
of skills: independent enquirers, creative thinkers, reflective
learners, team workers, self-managers, effective participators.
The CBI would be happy to work with the Government to resolve
18. The CBI shares the Government's ambition to become
the world's leader in STEM research and development. The UK must
continue to attractand attract more ofthe brightest
and most creative minds to these sectors. The CBI has proposed
a target of 25% of young people studying STEM subjects at university.
This target is essential if the UK is to fill the graduate level
jobs that are predicted in these sectors by 2014.
19. However, a study of A-level entries reveals some
worrying long term trends. The number of A-level exam entries
increased by 14% between 1984 and 2006 but science subjects have
not followed this trend:
Physicsthe absolute number
has fallen by 57% (31,065 fewer pupils) and as a proportion of
all A-levels from 9% to 3% (a 66% fall). Only 21% are girls. Physics
was the most popular science A-level in 1984 but is now the least
Chemistrythe absolute number
has fallen by 28% (13,534 fewer pupils) and as a proportion of
all A-levels from 8% to 5% (a 37% fall). Virtually equal numbers
of boys and girls take Chemistry49% are girls. Chemistry
was the second most popular science A-level in 1984 and retains
its middle ranking.
Biologythe absolute number
has stayed broadly unchangeda 3% rise (1,453 more pupils).
As a proportion of all A-levels has similarly remained constant
at a steady 7%. Biology was the least popular science A-level
in 1984 but is now the most popular.
Mathsthe absolute number fell
by 25% between 1999 and 2005 and as a proportion of all A-levels
from 9% to 7% (a 29% fall). But last year saw an encouraging 8%
rise in the number of young people taking Maths A Level (to 49,805
students). Only 38% are girls.
20.The fact that too few students are taking science A-levels
is having an impact on the number of students obtaining first
degrees in science subjects. While the number taking "science"
has risen by half (49%) since 1994, much of the increase is due
to the number taking biological sciences and ICT. The underlying
figures show very concerning trends for those sciences business
needswith a long term decline in the number taking physical
sciences (physics and chemistry) and engineering and technology.
After a dip in the numbers taking these subjects, we are now possibly
seeing a recovery, with an increase in the number of applicants
to university courses but the absolute numbers remain very much
lower than in 1984.
21. Employers use GCSEs and A-levels as a key method
of benchmarking potential employees. For example, companies set
minimum requirements for entry to jobs such as five GCSEs A*-C
including English and Maths. At higher levels, employers will
look at A-level grades when recruiting graduate candidates. Employers
understand GCSE and A-level qualifications and have no problem
differentiating between candidates with good grades. This is because
employers always interview candidates and do not offer jobs without
interview as many universities now do.
22. The CBI welcomed the Government's decision to incorporate
the planned A-level review into a wider 14-19 review of educational
qualifications in 2013. We urged the Government not to prejudge
the 14-19 review, as although employers involved in the development
of the new diplomas are enthusiastic, there remain concerns about
the new qualifications. CBI members believe that it is too early
to talk about withdrawing A-levels and GSCEs. The new diploma
ensure more young people attain vital literacy
and numeracy skills;
stretch our brightest childrenrather
than became a dumping ground for the less academically able; and
be attractive to young people currently disenchanted
with the education system.
23. It is vital that young people have a wide range of
attractive routes to choose from. Therefore, together with a high
quality 16-19 academic route, there must be similarly engaging
vocational and work-based choices available to young peopleparticularly
the less academically inclined.
24. The CBI welcomed the Government's plans for the creation
of a new independent regulator for the exams and qualifications
system. A key function of the new regulatory body will be the
accreditation of qualifications. Strengthening employer confidence
in the vocational qualifications system will require developing
qualifications with business relevant content.
25. It is essential that when the education/training
participation age is raised, employers have access to work related
qualifications that make them willing and able to provide training
to young people that leads to recognised qualifications. The Government
has set challenging apprenticeship and qualifications targets
for both 2011 and 2020. If these are to be met it is essential
that employers and young people see the point in getting involved
in work based qualifications. Employers will only see value in
employing young people and arranging training towards qualifications
if an employee is developing "economically valuable skills"ie
those skills that will lead to improvements in productivity and
26. The primary objective of training from an employer's
perspective is to raise business performance, by having a competent
workforce. Too many CBI members report that the recognised qualifications
available are often out of date and irrelevant to their businessand
do not reflect their specific skills needs. Findings by IRS, for
example, indicate that NVQs, SVQs, and National Occupational Standards
were used by only 32% of employers.
27. The Government has tasked the Qualifications and
Curriculum Authority (QCA) with developing an accessible system
for recognising high quality employer training within the qualifications
system. Employers often provide staff with excellent training
which is tailored to meet their individual business needsand
accrediting this training will build employer engagement with
the vocational qualifications system.
28. The CBI has welcomed the recent QCA pilots to accredit
employers' in-house training towards qualifications. The Sector
Skills Councils also have an important role in ensuring their
sectors' qualifications are fit-for-purpose. The CBI believes
two models should be available: an employer becomes an awarding
body to develop and award qualifications itself or an employer
partners with an existing awarding body. The fundamental principle
underlying a system for accrediting vocational training must be
that qualifications fit employer training needs, and not vice-versa.
Maintaining high quality standards will be essential, but this
must be coupled with a flexible approach from the new regulator.
For example, employer training should not necessarily have to
conform to national occupational standards if robust industry
or internal employer benchmarks already exist.
29. The QCA was tasked with showing demonstrable results
by Christmas 2007 and we welcome the progress that is being made
with employers achieving awarding body status and getting training
accredited. The CBI is pleased to be working with the QCA, awarding
bodies and employers to ensure that fit-for-purpose vocational
qualifications are designed and delivered. We are pleased that
John Denham, Secretary of State at DIUS has made progress in this
area a priority.