Letter: UK ill served by book-learning

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Sir: As a way of keeping kids off the street and youngsters off the dole, there may well be some merit in David Blunkett's suggestion that 85 per cent should gain at least five GCSE passes at grades A-C ("The case for improving the test", 22 August). However, Mr Blunkett is deluding the nation in insisting that "our economic competitiveness depends on our matching the skills achieved by young people in countries such as Taiwan and Korea".

It might bolster national morale for politicians to pretend that we can, by reading books, regain the position we fail to hold by making goods, but as the burgeoning unemployment and under-employment of graduates and YTS trainees amply testify, the bleak fact is that Britain is, in economic terms, already too clever by a third, if not by half.

Of course, it is arguable that it is better to be overqualified than underqualified. What is not quite so easily understood is that dangerous complacency in high places which leads Mr Blunkett, as it does Mrs Shephard, to imagine that having more and more youngsters sitting in libraries, lecture rooms and laboratories is a precondition for economic revival.

In last year's 3i survey of the UK's most successful independent wealth creators, two-thirds had never seen the inside of a university, whilst upwards of a quarter had, perish the thought, managed to benefit the country with an education that finished at GCSE. It would be a pity if Mr Blunkett should ignore the contribution to the country's economic well-being of those who are not all that interested in passing exams.

Dr JAMES MURPHY

Department of Educational Research

University of Lancaster

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