Woodhead attacks levels of literacy and numeracy

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Literacy and numeracy among job applicants, including university graduates, is worryingly bad, Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools says today.

Literacy and numeracy among job applicants, including university graduates, is worryingly bad, Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools says today.

In a letter to The Independent, Mr Woodhead, who heads the Office for Standards in Education, complains that, as an employer in central London, he is having difficulty recruiting numerate and literate staff.

"We have just interviewed 33 candidates for general administrative posts," he says. "All had GCSEs; 14 had higher education qualifications. Only six of the 33 passed the test in literacy and numeracy which is part of our selection process."

During the past fortnight, Mr Woodhead has called for an inquiry into GCSE and A-level standards and into the difficulty of degrees.

Last night, teachers' union leaders reacted scathingly to his latest attack on school and university standards. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The relevance of Chris Woodhead is debatable. The relevance of his tests even more so. The unsuccessful candidates will be able to reflect on their good fortune."

But university vice-chancellors argued that they, too, were worried about undergraduates' maths and English standards.

Geoffrey Copland, the vice-chancellor of Westminster University, said: "It is a real problem for us. We do diagnostic tests and put in remedial work to make sure that students' literacy and numeracy are adequate for the course.

"Those problems are a reflection of the school system for which, I believe, Mr Woodhead has some responsibility. Some people are coming through to higher education who have poor standards of literacy and numeracy but who are intelligent."

Professor Alan Smithers, of Liverpool University, blamed teaching methods in the Sixties and Seventies for literacy and numeracy shortcomings among young adults. "The view was that attention to detail in communication and arithmetic inhibited imagination and excitement," he said. "Many of today's teachers went through primary schools while this approach held sway and many of them have a fairly shaky grasp of spelling and grammar."

A spokesman for Ofsted said that the literacy and numeracy tests were provided by specialist companies and were common to many employers.

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