‘Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools,’ said Sir Terry, speaking at last night’s star-studded (ahem) annual conference of the Institute of Grocery Distribution. ‘Employers like us are often left to pick up the pieces. One thing that government could do is to simplify the structure of our education system.’ There are too many agencies and bodies, he said, ‘often issuing reams of instructions to teachers, who then get distracted from the task at hand: teaching children.’
So what’s the answer, Sir Tel? ‘At Tesco we try to keep paperwork to a minimum; instructions simple; structures flat; and – above all – we trust the people on the ground. I am not saying that retail is like education, merely that my experience tells me that when it comes to the number of people you have in the back office, less is more.’ Try telling that to the Civil Service.
It’s a pretty damning verdict, but Tesco is a big employer of school leavers so he should know what he’s talking about. The Department of Children, Schools and Families were not too impressed with Sir Terry’s remarks, despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that he’s an education advisor to Gordon Brown. ‘Standards have never been higher in our secondary schools’, said a DCSF spokesman.
Sir Terry isn’t alone in his concerns about the inability of too many of our schoolchildren to get the basics right. McDonalds has for a long time run its own ‘hamburger university’ to help employees raise their levels of literacy and numeracy as well as on-the-job skills. And John Cridland, director general of the CBI said that Leahy’s worries were ‘shared by a wide range of the business community.’
It all comes at a time when the future employability of our young people has never been of greater concern. The recession has hit the young hardest of all, although there was some vaguely positive news this morning, with the publication of the latest UK unemployment figures - youth unemployment actually fell, dropping from 947,000 to 946,000 in the three months to July.
But there’s a long way to go yet and if the current crop of school leavers is going to make the most of the job opportunities that are out there, Sir Terry is right - they need to be well up to speed in the educational basics. But can you run a school like a supermarket? With a general election in the offing, it’s possible that someone will give him the chance to find out.
In today's bulletin:
Last chance saloon for Punch as losses soar
Mandy races to Vauxhall workers rescue
Tesco's Sir Terry wants to fix our schools
Work/life balance good for the bank balance
Read The Parent Project, MT's great new blog