Problems with the national curriculum, employer engagement, and the quality of careers advice mean that students are leaving school unprepared for today’s workplace, a nine-month inquiry by the Skills Commission has found.
The study, entitled Still in Tune? The Skills System and the Changing Structures of Work, said the input of secondary schools was “critical” in ensuring that the skills system meets the needs of the UK economy and that this begins at the age of 14 when pupils take their options for study at GCSE.
However, it says that the current curriculum could be “limiting opportunities” for students and that many employers now prized work experience and evidence of skills over qualifications. The report states: “Employers we spoke to told us that adaptability and fusion skills were increasingly valuable to them. They also voiced concerns that the curriculum was narrowing variety, limiting opportunities for practical work, and upholding unhelpful divisions between the academic, vocational, creative and scientific.”
The Commission says that the changing world of work means that qualifications needed to adapt and that employers and industry representatives had to be more closely involved in accrediting qualifications to ensure their relevance.
It is also critical of policy-makers for “tinkering” with qualifications to “influence outcomes in the system”. It states: “Qualifications alone are not enough to overcome the barriers to adequate skills provision in England. There are many skills highly valued by employers ... that are particularly difficult to assess and develop on a qualifications framework. Employability and soft skills, including teamwork, communications, presentational leadership, planning and decision-making skills, all fit this category.” It calls for space to be created for these skills “elsewhere in the curriculum”.
Elsewhere, the report says that employers complain about schools often being unwilling to engage with their outreach work and that many teachers hold out-dated notions of job roles and sectors. It adds: “Given the specialised nature of much of England’s post-16 curriculum, this has the potential to be detrimental, not just to individuals but even to whole industries, if young people are put off from taking courses that feed into particular industry recruitment pathways.”
However, it also warns employers that they have a key role to play and should “make a commitment to placing engagement in education and training at the top of their organisational agendas”.
The report adds: “While there is certainly more scope for external involvement in the school system, it should be said that much of the learning that occurs in schools already – opportunities for team working, project work, extra-curricular activities – should be given more attention for its relevance to work and life post-education.”
On careers guidance, the report welcomes the recent campaigns for better information, advice and guidance, but warns that there are still “capacity issues in delivering quality careers guidance to young people”.
Among the report’s recommendations, it urges the Department for Education to recognise a 14 to 19 education system and to focus on how schools can be incentivised to work more closely with businesses.
The Skills Commission is an independent body comprising leading figures from across the education sector. To read the report, visit www.policyconnect.org.uk/sc/