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According to a survey conducted by the Forum of Private Business (FPB), school leavers lack even the most basic skills required to survive in the workplace.

The study, which amounts to the response of 4,000 employers nationwide, appears to add weight to the growing consensus that standards in education have fallen and the current system of exams, such as the A-Level, are getting easier. Lee Collinson, National Chairman of the FPB and a successful businessman, accused the British education system of "turning out school leavers who are socially inept and unprepared for the world of work."

"Party Tricks" are no Substitute for a Proper Education

More than 50% of employers rated the literacy, numeracy and oral skills of school leavers whom they had recruited as either "poor" or "very poor". Life skills faired only slightly better with 46% claiming that their young recruits timekeeping was "poor" and 27% critical about a lack of general courtesy shown towards colleagues and customers. The greatest levels of dissatisfaction arose in the remaining categories: nearly three quarters of employers believed that school leavers were unable to properly address a letter and over 60% rued their inability to take a simple telephone message.

Expressions of first-hand experience were equally unflattering if not downright astonishing; "The fact that they are passing exams only proves overall standards have fallen," said Jim Ferguson, Managing Director The Castle Group Ltd. "They are ignorant, illiterate, innumerate, bad mannered, want everything handed to them on a plate, and fall apart emotionally if they don"t get what they want," the Managing Director of an electrical contractor said. "British school leavers are not qualified for anything except getting drunk and not turning up for work," said Jeremy Rose, Proprietor of the Fensushi restaurant in London.

Government Urged to Speed up Implementation of White Paper

Reacting to the survey, the FPB, which represents the interests of 25,000 UK firms, has called upon the Government not to drag its heels over the realisation of its 14-19 Education and Skills White Paper.

The Paper, largely criticised for ignoring recommendations in the Tomlinson Report to phase out GCSEs and A-Levels in favour of a diploma style system, aims to tackle low post-16 participation, improve vocational education, "stretch" the development of young people, and ensure that all are sound in the functional elements of English and Maths.

Is the System Failing our Youth? Are Exams Really Getting Easier?

Annual mumblings of foul play had this year emanated even before the Government celebrated the 23rd successive rise in A-Level passes. The release of the strategically timed FPB survey adds weight to the growing discontent and belief that exams are being dumbed down to meet targets and satisfy university entrance numbers.

The education sector's self assessment in the 14-19 White Paper goes no further towards allaying fears by intimating that it is currently possible to achieve a grade C in Maths and English, GCSE level, without having a functional understanding of the subjects. In fact, it actually qualifies the evidence put forward by the FPB, admitting "Many employers are not satisfied with the basic skills of school leavers going directly into jobs."

There is an alternative voice, though. In her interview with The Guardian newspaper, Chris Keates, General Secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), champions teaching standards and rejects notions of "dumbing down". She believes that success rates reflect the system's flexibility to harness young people's strengths by offering a widening range of subjects, refuting allegations that exams are getting easier. Keates added; "Carping and criticism will once again cast a shadow over the outcome of the years of hard work and dedication of youngsters and their teachers."

Phillip Byrne

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