A-levels are not fit for purpose and should be reviewed, president of Royal Society says

'Pockets of success for the wealthy elite are not good enough'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 12 February 2019 01:09 GMT
A-levels are not fit for purpose and should be reviewed, president of Royal Society says

A-levels do not give young people the best start for securing good jobs and should be reviewed, the president of the Royal Society has said.

Venki Ramakrishnan is calling for an urgent independent review of post-16 education in the UK.

In a speech to business leaders and teachers on Tuesday, Mr Ramakrishnan will warn that A-levels are not fit for purpose and do not equip young people with skills needed for the workplace.

His comments come after the education select committee chair said GCSEs should be scrapped and A-levels should be replaced with a broader mix of academic and vocational subjects.

Four out of five businesses expect to increase the number of high-skilled roles over the coming years, but two in three are concerned about a lack of sufficiently skilled people to fill the positions, according to the Royal Society.

Preliminary research by the society suggests parents want change too, with more than half believing young people should be encouraged to study a broader range of subjects than they currently do.

Mr Ramakrishnan wants a review during the next parliament, with a view to transforming school curriculums within the next decade.

In a speech at the Royal Society Business Forum, Mr Ramakrishnan will say: “If we want our young people to be able to get good jobs and employers to be able to hire the people they need in the future, we need to make sure our schools and colleges are teaching the skills that will be needed.

“A-levels are not doing that. The jobs market has always changed but we are facing a new wave of change driven by technologies such as artificial intelligence.

“Some jobs will change, some will be lost altogether and there will be many new jobs in industries that don’t even exist yet.”

While acknowledging that some schools do a good job at providing a broader curriculum, the Royal Society president will say that “pockets of success for the wealthy elite are not good enough”.

An analysis by the Royal Society finds that students are more than twice as likely to be studying four or more A-levels if they are not eligible for free school meals.

They are also more than three times as likely to be studying four or more A-levels if studying at a private or grammar school rather than a comprehensive, and more than twice as likely if living in the southeast as opposed to the northeast.

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Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, is also expected to say: “In the face of rapid changes to the world around us, from globalisation to automation, the need to best prepare our young people for work has never been more important.

“The growing need for higher level skills is already holding some firms back as they struggle to recruit and it’s only set to get tougher in the years ahead.”

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