Last year barely half of GCSE students achieved a Grade C or above in maths (54%) and just six out of 10 (60%) in English.
Only 45% achieved both - the benchmark for competence in the three Rs. Delivering these skills must be an integral part of our education system but, business says, it is not happening under the current GCSE curriculum.
The CBI's latest report shows that one in three employers is having to send staff for remedial training to teach them basic English and maths skills they did not learn at school. The findings do not surprise me, as they are confirmed across the region when I meet and talk to employers.
Around a fifth of employers often find non-graduate recruits of all ages have literacy or numeracy problems, yet a third expect the levels of skills required for work will increase over the next five years.
The disturbing figures are contained in a CBI report commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills as part of its promise to raise basic skills levels through new functional skills modules for GCSEs. Simple mental arithmetic without a calculator, the ability to interpret data, competence in percentages, and calculating proportions top the numeracy wish list. Written communication including legible handwriting, communicating information orally, understanding written instructions, and correct grammar and spelling are the areas of literacy most in need of improvement.
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.
The fact that one in three employers ran remedial courses for their staff in the last year is a sad indictment of how the education system has let young people down.
Apart from the cost of having to pay for remedial training, UK businesses have to carry the burden in terms of low productivity, especially compared to their international competitors whose new recruits can boast higher functional skills.
We must raise our game on basic skills in this country. 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.
Sarah Green is regional director of CBI North-East