STUDENT LIFE / JAN. 31, 2014
version 2, draft 2

Lack of Skills: Failed Exams or Government Meddling?

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has found that one in five vacancies were due to a poor skills base. Also the education system is failing to provide the necessary skills to students, in order for them to succeed in the workplace. But, is this down to the education system and failing to teach basic skills, such as math and English effectively. Or is the real issue the fact that different governments are continually meddling with the education system and introducing targets and reports etc., for teachers to fill out?

Lack of Skills

The UKCES report, Skills for Sustainable Recovery, found that the number of vacancies in the UK had actually grown in 2013. Indeed figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) have indicated that the UK economy is growing. But, while this increase in the number of vacancies may be positive and indicate business growth, the reality is much different. It seems that a huge amount of the vacancies have actually been unfilled due to a lack of skills among UK job seekers. Young British people are leaving school with a very low level of the basic skills necessary to gain employment.  The report said, 'There has been an increase in the proportion of skill-shortage vacancies resulting from a lack of communication skills, particularly oral communication (41%, up from 37% in 2011), as well as a lack of literacy (34% up from 28% in 2011) and numeracy skills (26%, up from 24%).' Due to this, 48% of employers admitted to employing people who were overqualified for their position. Essentially, it would seem, that due to school leaver’s lack of skills, employers are having to employ university graduates for low skilled jobs.  

Education System

So where does the blame for this failure lie? Is it with our education system? The current A-Level system in place is surely inadequate for the skills needed for effective employment. The system is too narrow and allows students to specialise far too early, with many schools allowing students to choose essentially, useless subjects, which will do them little good in the real world. In place of the current system is a new educational system that has been proposed by a group of academics and business leaders. It is somewhat similar to the International Baccalaureate. This would have a much broader focus and English and maths would be mandatory until a student finished secondary school. It would also place more emphasis on group work, extended project qualification and emotional empathy.

Perhaps this is not the solution though. Many of the basic skills which employers require are already mandatory until the age of sixteen. If we just stop introducing new initiatives and red tape, then our teachers will be able to teach children to read, write and do simple arithmetic effectively.

Government Meddling & Reports

So the problem is not with the education system as such, it is the way that governments have successively interfered with it over the past three decades. Each successive government has created various new initiatives, while in office, all of which have just served to make more useless paperwork for the teachers; time which could be spent teaching their students. Has our education system improved or declined, with the increased number of Ofsted inspections, league tables and excessive paper work, all conspiring to put teachers under enormous stress?

Teachers are even restricted in what and how they teach now, so the job becomes so complicated that teaching effectively has become extremely difficult. Sir Michael Rake the chairman of BT has said ‘Over the last 25 years and longer there have been multiple initiatives from different secretaries of state which have not achieved the necessary improvement in educational standards,

The general secretary for the Association of School and College Leaders, Brighan Lightman echoes this, saying “Countries that do consistently well in international comparisons, like Singapore, have a long-term plan for their education service that rises above political considerations and is not driven by the electoral cycle.” 

It is clear that what is really needed in the immediate future at least, is for the government to remove all the red tape around teaching. Once teachers have all of these restrictions removed, perhaps there will not actually be any need for all of these initiatives.

There is certainly a skills gap, that is undeniable. And we have problems with the education system. But the issue, is do we need to completely change the system. Or do we just need to stop fiddling about with the one that we already have. Let teachers teach and perhaps, we will start producing school leavers that have all of the necessary skills, to be effective employees.


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