Teenagers with GCSEs lack basic skills

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The Independent Online

Teenagers with top-grade GCSE passes in maths and English are having to be tested again when they look for a job because so many lack basic skills.

Teenagers with top-grade GCSE passes in maths and English are having to be tested again when they look for a job because so many lack basic skills.

A report to be published today reveals a growing number of school-leavers with GCSEs lack the skills even to write a business letter or do basic sums.

It suggests that time should be set aside in the school timetable to coach youngsters in specific skills such as letter-writing.

The research, released to The Independent and which was carried out among leading employers in the City of London, will refuel the debate over exam standards - and whether secondary schools are putting enough effort into improving standards in the basic subjects.

It also coincides with the publication of another report by leading mathematicians saying the subject is in "a spiral of decline" in state schools.

Some employers, who say they look for candidates with at least five A* to C-grade passes at GCSE for most administrative and secretarial jobs, expressed fears to researchers that exam standards had been "dumbed down".

Ministers are already acting to plug a loophole whereby schools can use vocational qualifications - deemed to be worth four GCSE passes - to top exam league tables while neglecting maths and English.

In seven out of 10 of the country's most-improved schools, less than half of the pupils have top-grade GCSE passes in maths or English.

The report, published by the Corporation of London, says that only one out of the 32 employers quizzed said they were looking for youngsters with vocational qualifications.

"Some recruitment consultancies working on the employers' behalf test for literacy and numeracy - or offer further training in these areas - even where candidates hold the relevant GCSEs," it concludes. "This does not necessarily imply 'dumbing down' or a lowering of standards at age 16 although a few employers did have concerns in this area.

"It was more the case that the qualifications were thought not to equip recruits with particular basic arithmetic skills or business English for letter-writing and other professional communications."

It adds: "Recruiters stated that candidates for administrative and secretarial, clerical and customer-support positions often lack basic skills and soft skills, as well as lacking in confidence and presentation skills." Soft skills are defined as an ability to communicate or engage in team work. It recommends more public-speaking opportunities.

Sally Arscott, head of economic development at the Corporation of London, said that - even with the introduction of more technology - employees needed to be able to spot "foolish" errors on computers. The report went on to reveal that - for some ancillary posts - employers had to test candidates on the alphabet in order to be sure they could hold down a job which involved filing.

It recommends the introduction of specialist coaching in business English and maths in schools - and adds that pupils should be persuaded to study traditional academic subjects rather than vocational qualifications.

It will make gloomy reading for ministers who rejected the call from the inquiry headed by the former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson to replace the GCSE and A-level system with a single diploma to give more credibility to vocational qualifications.

This report shows that - while the two are separated - employers pay scant attention to vocational qualifications. Ms Arscott said that employers "stuck to their traditional beliefs in the GCSE and A-level system and didn't necessarily move with the times".

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