'GCSEs are past their sell-by date'

There is a 'false choice' between academic and vocational education, says CBI boss John Cridland.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 12 Aug 2015

When business leaders decide the time is ripe to let the world know their views on education, more often than not it’s to bemoan young people’s lack of workplace-ready skills. CBI director general John Cridland fits that mould with a call for a greater emphasis on vocational education. But he also thinks academic study is still right for some – and wants to scrap GCSEs entirely.

‘For too long, we’ve just ‘pretended’ to have a multiple route education system,’ Cridland will tell The Sunday Times Festival of Education later today. ‘Yet in reality there has been only one path the system values - GCSEs, A-levels, university.’

‘Instead, we must offer all young people equal but different ‘routes to heaven’.  Whatever path they want to follow – academic, vocational or a mixture of both,’ he will say. (Amen.) ‘Non-academic routes should be rigorous and different… but not second-best.’

‘GCSEs are past their ‘sell-by-date’ and should be retired,’ he will add, arguing their only use is for school league tables and that internationally ‘we’re the odballs’ in having unnecessarily pressurising exams at 16.

What Cridland is saying isn’t exactly revolutionary (although scrapping GCSEs is a bit more controversial: former education secretary Michael Gove tried and failed after the Lib Dems skewered the plans). He’s certainly not the first business boss to call for better vocational education.

But his call comes after the Government announced plans this week to make children study the ‘English Baccalaureate’ of English, maths, science, a modern foreign language and geography or history until 16. Add to that that the so-called ‘skills gap’ is an issue that just isn’t going away for companies, and that youth unemployment is still more than 16%, and it bears repeating.

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