Abolish GCSEs or face talent crisis, warns head of CBI

John Cridland’s end-of-year message focuses on education, EU and spending cuts

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The Independent Online

GCSEs should be scrapped if the UK is going to properly nurture the business leaders of tomorrow, and an overhaul to the EU is needed for companies to thrive, according to an influential business leader.

John Cridland, director general of the CBI, which represents 190,000 businesses employing seven million, warned that many young people were being left behind.  “Britain’s young people are streetwise and impressive, but our education system doesn’t always serve them well. While the average is gently improving, we see too many left behind, and others who could be high achievers not fulfilling their potential.

“We need to get the basics right first time in primary school, and then provide a personal menu of tailored learning plans for all 14- to 18-year-olds … encouraging young people to mix and match depending on what’s right for them.

“This will involve the eventual abolition of GCSEs at 16, as peak level testing would then take place when students are 18.

“By boosting skills we will see productivity rise – along with earnings.”

In his New Year message, Mr Cridland also revealed that with Britain’s membership of the European Union potentially subject to an in-out referendum in the next parliament, many CBI members are calling for a major overhaul. “Political isolationism would leave us poorer,” he said. “The majority of member companies of all sizes want to remain in a reformed EU. But the EU has to reform and be more competitive, outward-looking and open.” He added that there should be more trade deals signed and less “lifestyle” regulation such as the working time directive.

The CBI has been a strong EU supporter. Last month it asked the Prime Minister to tone down anti-EU Conservative “rhetoric”, which it thinks could impact jobs.

Mr Cridland added that the priority for the next government must be reducing the deficit and “cementing the UK’s reputation as one of the best places to do business”. But he warned: “The main parties are in agreement on the need for action, but seem reluctant to be up-front on the structural changes needed to prevent services suffering decline through a thousand cuts.

“All political parties need to give as much attention to how they will run government as to what government should do. Post-Autumn Statement, the same approach to public service reform is no longer an option. Much of the low-hanging fruit is long since gone and only radical solutions will deliver.

“Let’s see the integration of health and social care, and a significant increase in services available online.”

The CBI expects the recovery to strengthen next year. It said half of all businesses planned to step up hiring, with growth expected in every region of the UK.

Businesses were also positive on pay, with 55 per cent saying they would increase staff salaries in line with or above inflation.