Record A-level results fail to quash skill gap fears

Another record number of A-grades - but businesses still think students are unprepared for working life.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Judging by today’s A-level results, Britain’s kids are getting cleverer: the pass rate climbed again to 97.5%, while more than one in four entries received the top A grade. But according to UK businesses, this is not translating into greater employability. The Forum of Private Business said yesterday that its members are struggling to recruit young people with basic skills like communications, literacy and numeracy – and it thinks the failings of the education system are partly to blame. Of course this is hardly a new complaint; but the shocking levels of unemployment among young people at the moment suggest they may have a point...

The exam results certainly look encouraging, on the face of it. The overall percentage of A-grades jumped 0.8% to 26.7% (although the proportion was above 50% in independent schools, which shows how polarised the education system can be). Maths and Economics both saw a double-digit rise in the number of entrants, which should be good news for numeracy levels – indeed, 45% of those doing maths got an A. Critics may moan about dumbing-down, but politicians prefer to attribute it to the students’ hard work (a more voter-friendly approach).

One consequence of this year’s results is that competition for university places will be stiffer than ever. But those who miss out arguably needn’t worry too much: according to the FPB, the majority of its members value school-leavers above graduates and postgraduates. In fact, 77% of small business owners said they did not require employees with university skills. That’s a pretty poor show, whichever way you look at it.

There’s clearly something going wrong somewhere. Young people are bearing the brunt of the recession, with Government stats showing recently that one in six 18-24-year-olds are not in education, employment or training (aka NEETs). This amounts to 835,000 people – 100,000 more than this time last year. The FPB, which is supporting the Government’s ‘Backing Young Britain’ initiative (a £1bn scheme to help employers create 50,000 new jobs for 18-24 year olds by October this year – a tall order if ever we heard one) reckons one solution is for small firms to run apprenticeship, internship and work experience schemes – this might help bridge the gap from education to work, it suggests.

One thing’s for sure: soaring A-level grades don’t seem to have translated into more employable young people. And we can’t help feeling that the grade inflation we see every year (how on earth can 45% of Maths entrants get the top grade?) is just obscuring the scale of the problem...


In today's bulletin:

July borrowing soars to record high as taxes dry up
Record A-level results fail to quash skill gap fears
Retail sales up as Tesco accelerates banking move
Government told to turn skilled managers away
Businesses get militant about staff web use

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