THE failure of schools to equip teenagers with the basic skills they need for work is a “national scandal”, business groups said last night.
On the eve of this year’s GCSE results, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said too many pupils were leaving school lacking good communication skills and unable to turn up to work on time or dress smartly.
And the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said basic literacy and numeracy problems were a “nightmare” for business.
The FSB said one in 10 small firms was concerned about basic literacy and numeracy problems among school leavers and the same proportion worried about poor communication skills.
In a separate poll, the CBI said 52% of employers were dissatisfied with the basic literacy of school leavers, and 50% with their basic numeracy, but that 92% were satisfied with their IT skills.
CBI regional director Sarah Green said: “Their fluency with iPods, mobiles and MySpace has translated well into the workplace, and often gives them an edge over their bosses. The greater focus on IT in schools and investment in computers is also helping.
“The challenge ahead is for schools to channel that same enthusiasm into numeracy and literacy skills, where far too many young people are struggling.”
“Maths and English skills are a vital bedrock for further learning, and are essential both in the workplace and in life. We have to sharpen the skills of more of our young people, so that they are starting from the strongest possible position.
“The implications of not doing so are grave. We simply cannot match the labour costs of India, China and other emerging economies, and only a higher-skilled workforce will keep the UK competitive.
“The underqualified will be left to choose from an ever-dwindling pool of unskilled jobs.
“Basic literacy and numeracy problems are a nightmare for business and for individuals, so we have to get these essentials right. Progress has been made, but it is nowhere near enough.”
But National Union of Teachers Sunderland branch secretary Howard Brown said it was up to business to tell exam boards what they wanted children to learn.
He said: “If industry is saying children are illiterate or not very numerate they should be putting pressure on the exam boards to tell then what they want. Once they put it into the syllabus, we will teach it.
“The kids have done remarkably well and worked hard with what they have been given. It’s not their fault if somebody in industry is saying ‘That’s not what we want’.
“People shouldn’t knock anyone, especially the children, for having a different system from the one they went through themselves.”