The institute says countries such as Germany, Japan and France, where more children gain intermediate qualifications, have a basic common feature: 'They tend to have a 'learning culture' in which parents and teachers have high expectations of their children's educational achievements, where the education systems are designed to provide opportunities and motivation for learners of all abilities, and where the labour market and society in general reward those who do well in education.'
In Germany and France, two-thirds of children achieve the level of a Realschulabschluss or Brevet. Research in the mid-Eighties suggests that about 50 per cent of Japanese pupils reach the same level at 15, compared to one in three pupils achieving the English equivalent - three GCSEs in maths, English and one science.
'The inescapable conclusion is that, despite being relatively successful in producing a highly qualified elite, Britain is under-performing in the education of the majority of its young people.'
That failure starves British employers of high-quality trainees, exacerbating their low expectations of young recruits. If British employers were to improve youth training, they would have to spend considerable sums on remedial or preparatory education and training to bring their applicants up to the levels expected of trainees in other countries.
High expectations in those other countries are 'institutionalised within the education systems', with more clearly prescribed curricula, better focused teaching methods, more extensive use of professionally designed materials and more orderly, purposeful lessons.
The other three countries, unlike Britain, require pupils to repeat a year if they have not reached the level required. The institute's researchers say that although that practice 'has been criticised for the supposedly damaging effects that such labelling may have on pupil confidence and motivation', recent research in France suggests that redoublement 'does not noticeably damage pupils' self-esteem', and that for some pupils subsequent progress is better than for those who did not repeat a year.
'Grade repeating,' the researchers say, 'embodies an important educational principle: whilst some children may take longer than others, all are capable of achieving.'
Educational Provision, Educational Attainment and the Needs of Industry; National Institute report no 5; 2 Dean Trench Street, London SW1P 3HE; pounds 8.50.Reuse content