THE UK’s education system is fostering a “cult of the average”, failing to help the brightest youngsters, or those most in need, business leaders have warned.
Too many children fall behind and never catch up, and some secondary schools have become little more than exam factories, the Confederation of British Industry said.
Decades of “patchwork” reforms have confused schools, encouraged a tick box culture that has put off teachers and resulted in a narrow focus on exams and league tables, the biggest business group said.
In a new report, the CBI called for a major overhaul to ensure all children can succeed.
It recommends radical changes, such as reducing the importance of GCSEs and making A-levels the main exam for school leavers, and moving away from league tables in favour of Ofsted reports.
“The education system fosters a cult of the average: too often failing to stretch the most able or support those that need most help,” the CBI said.
CBI director-general John Cridland said while businesses want school leavers to have a rigorous education, they also want it to be “rounded and grounded”.
“Today we have a system where, sadly, a large minority of our young people fall behind,” he said. “They fall behind and never catch up. It’s not the fault of any individual concerned. It’s not the fault of children, parents or teachers.
“It’s a system failure. It’s not acceptable any more than it’s not acceptable that the top 10% are not stretched enough.”
The report, published on the day the CBI meets for its annual conference in central London, says that the UK’s schools have faced “35 years of piecemeal reforms”.
While international studies show a slight rise in average pupil performance, this hides “a long tail of low achievement with children falling behind long before they reach secondary school”.
Mr Cridland said teachers need to be “liberated” to allow them to teach creative lessons.
A Department for Education spokesperson said no school should settle for second best “and every one of our reforms is designed to drive up standards so all children have a first-class education”.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it agreed there should be more focus on “learning outcomes for individuals”.
Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said the report showed “the Government is failing to do enough to prepare young people for the world of work and to succeed in life”.
That requires a focus on the kinds of skills and knowledge that employers need, both vocational and academic, he added.