Fit to trade

The latest report from Ofsted will no doubt be quoted, selectively, by government as an endorsement of its policies.  There has been a sustained four-year increase in schools rated good or outstanding, writes Christine Gilbert the Head of Ofsted, but that could be speeded up if ‘dull’ lessons were eradicated.

But three of the main ‘users’ of the education system, each of them major employers, see things differently.  Immediately some will dismiss such criticism on the basis that education is about much more than job preparation and therefore such a narrow focus on whether schools have been successful in meeting the needs of employers does not count.  But their views should indeed count, and count in a very real way.  However much youngsters know about history and geography, biology, philosophy or information communication technology (and I would argue that they can’t ever know too much about such subjects) unless they can find a job in the marketplace on the basis of things they can actually do, education will have failed them.

In mid October Sir Terry Leahy, Chairman of Tesco’s, now undoubtedly the nation’s largest grocery store said, “We are  particularly concerned about education.  As the largest private employer in the country, we depend on high standards in our schools, as today’s school children are tomorrow’s team.  They will be the ones we need to help build our business in our stores, depots and offices.  Sadly, despite all the money that is being spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools.  Employers like us, and I suspect many of you, are often left to pick up the pieces.  One thing that government could do is to simplify the structure of our education system.  At Tesco we try to keep paperwork to a minimum; instructions are simple; structures are flat; and – above all – we trust the people on the ground.  I’m 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’.”

Early last week Sir Stuart Rose, Executive Chairman of Marks & Spencer’s told the CBI that Britain’s school leavers are “not fit for work” despite record levels of public spending on education.  He went on to say that he was extremely concerned about the huge gap between the best and the worst qualified school leavers.  “We have to worry about those people who don’t have the 21st century equivalent of metal bashing, whether that is computer literacy or something else.  They are not fit for work when they come out of college.”  A few days before that Richard Lambert, the Director General of CBI, said that addressing the long tail of poor schools and the huge number of people who leave school without any qualifications, should be a priority for whichever Party wins this coming General Election.  And it’s not a matter of money because, as Lambert reminded the CBI Conference, the UK spends more than the average country in the OECD on the education of every child.

I once heard a previous Chairman of Marks & Spencers explaining to a Headteachers conference, “You may think that the reason M & S are interested in education is to ensure a steady supply of appropriately educated future employees.  M & S will always be able to recruit good staff.  My interest in supporting you teachers goes well beyond that.  Unless you generally educate vast numbers of young people so as to grow up as responsible, thoughtful citizens, we will not have a country fit to trade in.”

See Parts Nine and Ten of the Briefing Paper pages
And Chapter of Overschooled but Undereducated