Tesco boss: School standards too low

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The Independent Online

Standards in too many state schools are "woefully low", warns the boss of Tesco, who is also an education adviser to Gordon Brown.

Sir Terry Leahy, in a speech in London yesterday, accused ministers of excessive meddling in schools, leaving teachers "distracted" from their main job of passing on knowledge to pupils.

Sir Terry is a member of the National Council for Educational Excellence (NCEE) – the body set up by Mr Brown to advise him on education.

He told a conference of grocery bosses that employers were too often left to "pick up the pieces" because of their employees' inadequate education.

His comments will strike a chord with some teachers' and headteachers' leaders, who claim the government regime of testing, targets and league tables has left them feeding an education diet to children which concentrates too narrowly on the three Rs and leaves little time to deliver a broader and balanced curriculum.

"One area that Tesco is particularly concerned about is education," Sir Terry told the conference. "As the largest private employer in the country we depend on high standards in our schools as today's schoolchildren are tomorrow's team. Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools. Employers like us are often left to pick up the pieces."

Sir Terry added that the Government should simplify the structure of the education system as at present there were too many agencies and bodies giving "reams of instructions" to teachers as to how to go about their jobs. He said ministers should follow the example of the supermarket chain, which kept paperwork to a minimum, kept instructions simple and "above all – we trust the people on the ground".

His comments will be seized upon by the Conservatives' education spokesman, Michael Gove, who has often argued that teachers should be give more "freedom" in the classroom.

The NCEE was set up by the Prime Minister immediately on coming to office and its appointees were told they should act as advocates for improving state education.

In the past few months, the Government has shifted the emphasis away from a more rigid, centrally controlled curriculum with reviews of both primary and secondary school timetables becoming less prescriptive. Sir Jim Rose, the former Ofsted inspector who reviewed primary education, in particular has emphasised the need for more creativity in schools.