CBI complains of 'exam factory' schools

maths The CBI says everyone should study maths and English until the age of 18

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Business leaders say some UK schools have become "exam factories" and are calling for children to be given a broader education.

The CBI is calling for radical changes to schools.

It says there is too much focus on exams at 16 and that should be switched to 18, with more emphasis on skills people need for life and work.

It calls for schools inspectors and league tables to look beyond exam results.

But it says improved attainment would boost the UK's economic growth.

The Confederation of British Industry, the employers' organisation, made the recommendations in a report released at the start of its annual conference.

Its director general John Cridland said: "In some cases secondary schools have become an exam factory.

"Qualifications are important, but we also need people who have self-discipline and serve customers well. As well as academic rigour, we need schools to produce rounded and grounded young people who have the skills and behaviours that businesses want."

The business leaders say their report is for the UK as a whole, but power over education is devolved from Westminster and policies and exams taken differ.

Some of their recommendations relate most closely to schools in England, where Education Secretary Michael Gove is overhauling the school system, including exams.

On GCSEs, he has mainly focussed on toughening the exams, encouraging pupils to study more academic subjects, and calling for a higher percentage of pupils to score the benchmark five good GCSEs, rather than downplaying their importance.

This, however, is something the Labour education team is considering as part of a wider package of reforms.

'Cult of the average'

Mr Cridland told journalists the CBI was not criticising government policies - or teachers.

"Government reforms are heading in the right direction, but are not sufficient on their own and must go further and faster," he said.

The report backs England's academy programme - where schools are encouraged to take on more independence - but is also critical.

It attacks what it calls the "cult of the average", saying 40% of young people are underachieving while the top 10% are not being stretched enough.

The report says UK schools have had 35 years of "piecemeal reforms" and the result has been a "gentle upswing in performance", judged by international benchmarks, but also a "long tail of low achievement".

In England, from 2015, young people will be expected to stay in education or training until they are 18 and the CBI says the focus should be switching more towards exams at 18, with improved vocational A-levels. All children should study English and maths until that age, it recommends, which is in line with Labour proposals.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "The CBI rightly recognises the importance of English and maths, calls for greater rigour in the curriculum and in exams, welcomes the academy programme, wants a new accountability system and backs greater freedom for teachers.

"These are all part of the government's radical package of reforms that will give England's education system the thorough overhaul it needs."

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "When business leaders say his approach to education is wrong, Michael Gove looks seriously out of touch.

"There are a number of recommendations which support Labour's policies. It confirms that Michael Gove has focussed on the wrong thing by spending two years tinkering with exams at 16, rather than offering all young people the skills and knowledge they need when they leave education at 18."

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Brian Lightman said the report highlighted the pressing need for a long term strategy for our education system, which will provide the stability school and college leaders require in order to embed sustainable improvements.

However the CBI's claim that the UK has slipped down international league tables is misleading and statistically inaccurate as made clear by the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority and other reports."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I find it incredulous that people are still blaming the teachers for what is taught in school, we have very little say as to "what" is taught in a subject. When will others take it on board that it is the exam boards who set what is taught in the syllabus and they in turn set the syllabus being requested by the government.
    Stop blaming the teachers.
    Recently retired teacher ...37 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.


    The fact that big busineess can't do the simple maths of averages is worrying is it not? I mean these are the people saying that education is getting worse, that people aren't as prepared by school as they used to be etc. Yet apparently their education isn't up to much either.
    Same with a certain Mr Gove, or his mates Dave and George "Maths - what's that"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Education is about replacing an empty mind with an open and enquiring one.... not about gaining qualifications or even preparing for work, albeit both of those are important. Amateur meddling by politicians in education obsesses about qualifications because such quantitative measures are simple to assess, more qualitiative things are harder to understand or to measure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Well duh! Of course they are exam factories - because some previous business leaders told government they wanted a workforce of busy little worker bees with grades A-C in some basic subjects. So the Governments organised things in this way to generate lots of little worker bees with A-Cs but the stupid business leaders shipped all the jobs to China so they had nothing to do when they got 5 A-Cs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Rabbit Killer,
    As one who, over the last 40 yrs, has been variously employed in industry, self employed, a public servant and been a teacher & parent, I can tell you that teachers are running round in circles trying to satisfy the ever changing demands of their government bosses, and that the main motivation of most of them is to do their best for the children.
    Don’t knock them, help them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    More needs to be done to prevent children learning to be stupid.

    From each other.

    From their parents.

    From targeted media content.

    By stupid, I mean full of falsehoods, e.g. "knowing what make of mascara Katie Price uses is more important than having a proper grasp of one's own language" and "what is said about me on FB matters more than numeracy".

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Well said CBI...

    To make it clearer...

    Early life and education should be enabling children to think and work things out for themselves founded on a good understanding of the basics in most things.

    Mr Gove and his many predecessors should learn the simple adage...

    Tinker Tinker Dumber and Dumber

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    "switching more towards exams at 18, with improved vocational A-levels."

    It was always thought by me that vocational was covered by City& Guilds and academic covered by A levels so are we due for a melding of the two as per GCSE's with all the consequential furore some years down the line when it dawns on whoever is responsible for education that the system is a mess in need of reform?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The problem is politics

    British business doesn't train people

    It expects the government to train people

    ...and pays 2% tax...!

    Hundreds of Thousands of skilled people got chucked onto the scrapheap by the oil industry in the 1980s...

    ...and now they're desperate for skilled personnel and wages have gone through the roof...

    Just one example. Of one industry

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    This is just another attempt by the CBI and businesses to get the tax payer to train the workforce, without costing the CBI and businesses a penny. The say they want a trained work force but on the whole are unwilling to play their part, with excuses like why should I PAY TO TRAIN PEOPLE TO DO A JOB FOR ME. This just show how greedy they have become. If they payed a living wage that might help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    It amazes me how everyone is supposed to be above average. Do these people know what average actually means?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    In my opinion most people know the problems but are too frightened to express their views.

    1. Too many pupils unable to speak English

    2. Lack of discipline

    3. Too many 'rights' given to children that enable them to challenge authority

    4. Positive discrimination that discriminates against those who want to achieve

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    3 months on the dole, when i was 19 taught me all i needed to know about being flexible and worth employing. I've had lots of low grade jobs but i've always had more money than my friends who were 'waiting' for the right job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    #8 Indeed it should.

    And if business's want certain skills taught they should pay for them! This gov has put them in a position to do so. But of course they won't put their money where their mouths are, because as usual they want the Taxpayer to pay for them!
    State education should not be about what is good for current business needs, but what fundemental knowledge all citizens need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Mr.Gove, even the CBI say you are wrong.

    How about resigning ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The education system uses different methods of teaching as it recognises pupils have many different ways of learning, yet when it comes to exams everyone gets the same questions and is expected to give the same set answers. The problem is we are needed to be comparable so hierarchy can be implemented in society. That means a universal rating system. Uniqueness in any area is unhelpful to this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I have to agree. "Skills people need for life and work" are missing when people leave education and try and enter the work place. Even when such people apply for jobs and have studied in a field which "should" help to success in their application, it is clear many are lacking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It's seem vital these day that we protect young people from failure as it might upset them.

    The whole "can't fail" approach is ridiculous. The main solution is to grade the pupils against each other... top 10% get A, next 10% get B etc.

    Also, the exams need to cover more wide a view of the subject, currently the curriculum is so narrow teachers can teach the exam instead of the subject.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    So what are YOU going to do about this CBI?
    Are you going to keep on saying it’s the Government,s fault, or are you going to invest in more Graduate schemes, Apprenticeships, training etc.
    I’ve been listening to the bleating of the CBI for 30 years, but I’m not bothered now; all your short sightedness means I’ve never been in such demand.
    OK for me, but what about the next Generation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    4. laughingdevil

    ..so that they don't have to train those they employ at the bottom to be nice to the customers they are serving fries to! And how exactly are schools going to teach discipline when the gov stops them enforcing it?
    Maybe being nice and being disciplined could be taught by parents ? Oh, no, silly me, what am I thinking.


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