Schools are becoming 'exam factories' which don't equip students for the world of work, claims CBI


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The Independent Online

Schools are in danger of becoming "exam factories" - churning out teenagers unable to cope with life beyond their gates, Britain's bosses warned yesterday.

The claim was made in the official response of the CBI, which represents 240,000 business, to exams regulator Ofqual over the Government's proposed GCSE and A-level reforms.

The CBI is particularly incensed at a proposal to stop marks from practical experiments in science subjects counting towards the final A-level grade. 

It believes the decision - taken by Ofqual because of concerns over cheating during experiments and bolstering from teachers - will devalue the exam in the eyes of employers. Teachers' leaders are also worried it will lead to fewer pupils taking what is seen as a vital subject for the future of the economy because they find it boring.

In its submission, the CBI says: "The current exam system risks turning schools into exam factories that are churning out people who are not sufficiently prepared for life outside the school gates."

Under the current proposals, practical experiments in the science laboratory will be assessed separately but the marks will not count towards A-level grades.

The CBI's document warns that businesses are "concerned that the examination system in place in recent years has placed young people on a continuous treadmill of assessment". Young people were "academically stretched" but failed to show "a series of behaviours and attitudes that are vital fir success - including determination, optimism and emotional intelligence".

The CBI welcomes key planks of the Government's proposals, including the move towards reliance on end-of-course exams in both GCSEs and A-levels, which they accept will give schools more space for creativity and "innovative thinking". However, it is adamant that the decision not to allow marks for lab experiments to count towards the final A-level grade is "a step in the wrong direction" and "not acceptable to bosses".

"Practical skills are vital to supporting a young person's progression into employment or higher education," it adds. 

It adds that the removal of the marks for coursework from the final grades "would be a significant step backwards and could undermine employers' confidence in the qualification".

The CBI is also worried that the changes will only be implemented in England and could pose employers with an awkward dilemma in determining the relevant merits of A-levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Speaking at the North of England education conference in Nottingham, Neil Carberry, director of employment and skills at the CBI, said that the problem with the UK was that governments tended to think all they had to do was "change the exams system every couple of years and hope the rest (of the necessary reforms) would follow.

He wanted to see an encouragement of "risk taking in schools", arguing it was necessary to avoid a situation where 18-year-olds "whose mums and dads and parents and friends can help them out" were the only ones who managed to get jobs.

While the CBI likes the Government's avowed policy of devolving power to schools, Mr Carberry said that he is not sure this was happening on the ground.

"Too often when you scratch the surface what you see is power not being devolved to schools, you see power move from the middle tier to the centre and schools scrabbling around to try and work out what they can and can't do and where they stand as regards accountability," he added.

In outlining the proposals, Ofqual said it was concerned about the possibility of cheating and teachers over-marking their pupils' work in science experiments.

Today is the final day for consultation over the plans.