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 67.

    Couldn't agree more with the headline - yes it's important that people have the best academic foundations possible, but there's a hell of a lot more to life than that.

    More focus needed on problem-solving, practical skills, creating relationships in a business environment and business processes (Accounts, Procurement, Sales, Pricing Models etc) - things that will help people in all walks of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.


    Another person who doesn't know what they're talking about. Differentiated learning is about ensuring that pupils receive work that is appropriate to their level and helps them to move on. I take it that you don't think that you should leave students floundering so that they fail. Children will always need differing levels of support to learn and always have done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    You obviously know nothing about schools and the children in them. The majority of children are hard working, interested in their subjects, and want to succeed. You've been listening to too much media nonsense about schools. Check your facts. What children need is time to study what they enjoy as well as learn the basics really well. Not examination based curriculums.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I've been working in British Universities for over a decade. In that time I've seen a slight improvement in the academic standards undergraduates arrive with. They know a little more and their skills are a teeny bit better. This, however, has been coupled with a dramatic fall in gumption, initiative and creativity. They expect to be spoonfed and coached. We're raising a nation of robots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    There are currently thousands of unemployed teachers in the UK.
    Schools tend to hire seasonally, typically Easter time, in anticipation for the new academic year.

    Because of the mass redundancies of public sector workers, going into related fields is more difficult than ever before because employers can cherry pick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Yes schools are exam factories.
    No, they shouldn't be purely exam factories.
    The pressure should not be just on schools to deliver a well rounded adult to civilisation, there are hundreds of after school and weekend groups that could carry this function and also whilst informal in function parents have a massive role to play in educating their children in life. Schools do not do it all for them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    55.anneque2 "For years they've used every trick and fiddle in the book to push kids who've done no work"

    And how exactly do you know this? What is your evidence? It's ridiculous to suggest that children have done no work. You clearly know nothing whatsoever about how the education system works and if I was in your position, I'd keep quiet and not make myself out to be completely ignorant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    The teachers have been saying this for years but you get what is measured. So schools are measured mainly on exam results so exam results are the priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    If you want an economy like the Germans, Japanese or Chinese then you better educate your kids the way those guys do it. They work their children harder at school to a higher standard. If our schools were turning out scientists, mathematicians and chemists rather than hairdressers, media people and accountants the place would be in a better state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    38. Acet
    I think you'll find there always have been these people around, but I do agree, it is a deception to coach someone to pass an exam, help them too much (its now called differentiated learning) and leave them with the notion that if they cry 'stuck' long enough somebody will pay for or do it for them . I'm afraid life ain't like that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    They are 'exam' factories. The pressures on the kids today is very high, but I think we have to accept that as science and technology move so quickly, the education has to move with it to keep up. My 10 year old's work load is so big that we are often still doing homework to 9.30 pm, and I am learning with him, so it's not all bad

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    It says it all when young people going to college, having completed school have to take 'functional skills' (english and maths). Exam factories would be fine if the exams were a guarentee of quality eduction. The problem is is that they're not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Yes, and heads and teachers have colluded and co-operated with the process, so it's too late for their hypocritical leaders to make hypocritical pronouncements about it. For years they've used every trick and fiddle in the book to push kids who've done no work, learned nothing or are incapable of it through worthless exams and done very nicely out of it in terms of salaries, promotions, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    38.Acet "What worries me about the UK's education is the whole "everybody is a unique beautiful butterfly and should only get positive feedback" style of teaching".
    Let me put your worries to bed. This is an invention of the tabloids. All children get feedback to improve them from where they are now. Unless you think that education is only for the very able, of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    You just need to look at the behaviour of 'Thrasher' Mitchell, little Foxy, Laws, Hunt, Gove, 'Pasty George' and the 'Witney Plonker' to realise that there may be some serious failings in the nation's education system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Surely it's about time someone banged heads together and got all the interested parties to agree to an end to end system which would allow schools and pupils some margin of certainty for the next twenty years.
    We are not providing enough vocational courses leading to recognised qualifications,sending too many people to university and the exam system is a mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    The MOST important thing that can be taught at school is how to learn independantly. Because no matter what any business says, if we changed the education system right not to fit their needs, it would be obsolete before any pupil starting now finishes. But if you know how to learn you can adapt properly to the ever changing world and make yourself indispensable to these know nothing KnowAlls!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Of course schools are exam factories. Once the govt. introduced league tables to rank school solely on A*-C grade GCSE's and have OFSTED use the same criteria to judge whether a school is good or inadequate, it doesn't take a genius to work out schools will do whatever they can to produce as many A*-C grades as they can. I'm amazed. Get rid of league tables.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    to #18

    Businesses will & do train their workers, but they rightly expect that entrants have a good basic education before their training after spending many years within the compulsory education system. Why should an Employer have to spend money on teaching people the 3 Rs before they can train them in their own job specifics?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    39.AndyC555 - disappointing to see you ridicule someone who is out of work. No doubt what you 'keep hearing' is from tabloid newspapers. It must be great to read The Sun and get your opinions without having to look at evidence, hard facts and reflect on very complex issues.


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