Letters: New exams won’t allay employers’ worries

These letters appear in the Saturday 12th April edition of the Independent

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Ofqual has announced tougher new GCSEs and A-levels, but we at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) are concerned the changes will do little to alleviate concerns from employers who they say struggle to find young people with the skills they need. It is widely agreed that reform is needed, but we are concerned that this has been rushed through and will not deal with the issues it attempts to solve.

GCSEs and A-levels do not always provide the level of practical experience that employers need. The IET’s most recent Skills and Demand in Industry report showed that 42 per cent of employers told us that they were disappointed with the skills of new employees. Many of the UK’s engineering employers are suffering from engineering skills gaps, shortages and an ageing workforce, which will only get worse in the future when huge numbers of engineers and technicians are forecast to be needed for new infrastructure and energy projects.

One way to address these concerns could be by schools arranging work experience placements for students or by promoting apprenticeships.

It is vital that we encourage more students to study science and engineering as we are facing a skills crisis. But it is also vitally important that young people learn the crucial skills that employers are so desperate for.

Stephanie Fernandes, Institution of Engineering and Technology,  London WC2

Glenys Stacey, chief executive of OfQual, thinks that testing practical knowledge is as good as testing practical skills in science examinations. The first and most obvious point is to pray she never gets her hands on the driving test.

Far more seriously, removing practical skills from the final exam assessment is quite likely to diminish the time devoted to them, because of the time pressures to complete an already over-full curriculum. This is a terrible shame. From my own experience as a teacher, I know that the first question pupils asked coming into a science lesson was, “Is this a practical lesson?” The delight and enthusiasm the practical lessons created was fundamental to the enjoyment, and hence achievement, of the pupils.

Science is about developing a hypothesis in answer to a question, then testing it practically and evaluating the result. To think that it is not necessary to test this skill and include it in the final examination grade is the mark of a scientifically illiterate mind.

Brian Dalton, Sheffield

Schools, taxes and equality

While totally disagreeing with Chris Blackhurst’s support for a flat-rate 27 per cent tax rate – the idea that it would “put all those tax advisers out of business” is preposterous – I wholeheartedly agree with his proposal to end private schools (“What would I do if I were Prime Minister?”, 11 November)

His argument that private education is “unfair and insidious” and is the reason for so much being “wrong with our nation today” is spot-on, but strangely, those are the same points I would use to explain my opposition to flat-rate taxes.

With so much inequality in the country now, and, according to one source, Britain 28th out of 34 in the equality league table, it is essential the rich pay much more in income tax; if Thatcher could live with a top rate of 60 per cent, I am sure the country would welcome it now.

Tax avoidance will continue as long as there is no determination at government level to end it, and as long as perpetrators, when discovered, are allowed to escape punishment and disgrace.

Bernie Evans, Liverpool

I completely agree with Jason Priestly’s letter (11 April) in response to Chris Blackhurst’s article on housing (9 April).

In the same article, Mr Blackhurst described inheritance tax as “the most ludicrous tax there is”, yet in his article of 11 April, on education, he asks: “Why should some children be given a better chance just because their parents are wealthy?” Inheritance tax is one means of redressing such imbalances.

John Armstrong, Southampton

Blakelock: the hunt goes on

After nearly 30 years, the police’s attempt to secure the conviction of Keith Blakelock’s murderer amounts to an attempt to secure another set of wrongful convictions. The police have been convinced of the guilt of everyone that they have prosecuted, including Winston Silcott.

The police’s behaviour in the Blakelock case stands in stark contrast to their inactivity in the 1979 case of Blair Peach. The National Council for Civil Liberties found in its unofficial Committee of Inquiry that he was almost certainly murdered by members of the Special Patrol Group.

Tony Greenstein, Brighton

Congratulations on your headline “No Justice for PC Keith Blakelock” (10 April). This man, while protecting firefighters, was murdered by a mob of sadists. Yet a number of “community leaders” came on television and argued for closure!

The actions of the Metropolitan Police have been abysmal. However, the suggestion that the pursuit of Blakelock’s killers be dropped is appalling.

 What would the reaction have been if a white person had suggested that Stephen Lawrence’s killers should not be pursued because it was too difficult. Correctly they were pursued for years and punished for their evil crime. PC Blakelock’s family deserve a continued search for justice.

Michael Lloyd, London N4

Don’t give in to veiled fanatics

Mary Dejevsky’s article on the Rebekah Dawson case (8 April) leaves me shocked, worried and absolutely livid. Rebekah only proves the point, and justifies our long-held cultural belief, that people who hide their faces are not to be trusted. Clearly it wasn’t just her Islamic modesty at work here. As well as intimidating the witness her husband had previously assaulted, she supports the barbaric slaughter of people on our streets.  

My main concern is why our court system is pandering to atavistic customs and bullying fanatics? Anyone who testifies in, or enters, a court of law should show his face. That is English custom and should be English law. You can’t enter a petrol station wearing a crash helmet, so why can you enter a court wearing a full face mask? 

When English law conflicts with Sharia law (or indeed any other religious law), or the cultural customs of some Muslims, that’s unfortunate, but the law must prevail. As long as those who genuinely and passionately want to live under Sharia law live in this country, under English law, they must be treated the same as everyone else in the legal system. Anything else is giving in to fanaticism for a quiet life, which never ends well.

Monica Scott, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Those Smokers are still working

I am absolutely incensed at the comments made by Janet Street-Porter (5 April). How dare she suggest that the “sad clusters” of people gathered outside buildings having a cigarette are wasting time and should have their pay docked?

My husband, now an ex-smoker, JSP will be pleased to hear, would work for approximately two hours then go outside for a cigarette. The time was a welcome break from his computer, the time spent thinking over his next task and often answering queries from those outside doing the same. This time was certainly no more than that spent making coffee, chatting at the photocopier or watercooler. He worked hard, provided a good service to his company and had an exemplary attendance record.

Yes, it is tragic that her sister died from the effects of smoking – so did my first husband – but I have never allowed it to drive me to add to the misery of those in the workplace.

Michelle Webb, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Cameron’s gospel for a time of austerity

The gospel according to Cameron’s Big Society: if you can’t pay your rent you will become a refugee in your own country; if you can’t afford to feed your family you will have to beg from a food bank; if you can’t stay out of jail you won’t even have anything to read.

“Unto every one that hath shall be given and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him” – Luke 19. 

Think again, Mr Cameron.

Sylvia Hyden, Wolverhampton

A culture of profiteering

Our new Culture Secretary  has praised ticket touts for simply filling a gap in the market – proper entrepreneurs. A bit like pickpockets simply filling a gap in the pocket?

Lorna Roberts, London N2

Historic moments

Moments of the Great War: very good. No need for a book; I am keeping them in a file for my grandchildren.

Sue Richmond-Allen. Malvern,  Worcestershire