Firms left to train students ‘failed by school’

The school system is failing to equip young people with the most basic numeracy and literacy skills and businesses are forced to fill the gap, the CBI has warned.

Research by the employers body finds one in three firms is having to send staff for remedial training to teach them basic English and maths they did not learn at school.

It comes just days before this year’s GCSE results are published. Last year, just 54 per cent of students achieved a grade C or above in maths, while just 60 per cent reached this level in English.

Only 45 per cent of students achieved above a grade C in both English and maths, which is considered the benchmark for competence in reading, writing and arithmetic.

“We must raise our game on basic skills in this country,” said CBI director general Richard Lambert, and called on the government to show a “far greater sense of urgency” in tackling the problem.

“The UK simply can’t match the low labour costs of China and India. We have to compete on the basis of quality, and that means improving our skills base, starting with the very basics.

“Employers’ views on numeracy and literacy are crystal clear: people need to be able to read and write fluently and to carry out basic mental arithmetic. Far too many school-leavers struggle with these essential life skills.”

Today’s report, which was commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and based on interviews with 140 firms, also highlights the skills employers rate as the most important and the most in need of improvement.

These include simple mental arithmetic and an ability to do percentages – something employers insist is crucial when calculating VAT or sale prices, for example – as well as legible handwriting, good oral communication skills and correct grammar and spelling.

However, schools minister Jim Knight said Labour was doing “more than any government” to ensure young people had a good grasp of the basics, and was toughening up English and maths GCSEs to ensure all school leavers could master the three Rs.

“In the future employers will have a guarantee of the quality of the school leavers they are taking on,” he stressed.

“A good pass in future will mean that young people are equipped with the basics and know how to apply them. That means being able to write and speak fluently, carry out mental arithmetic, give presentations and tally up a till at the end of the day.

“This is what they are calling for and this is what we will deliver. We will be calling upon business to help us get these qualifications right.”