Britain's education system is producing a generation of "unemployable" school leavers who lack even the most basic skills to survive in the workplace, a new survey has found.
More that half the 4,000 of employers who took part in the survey by the Forum for Private Business (FPB) assessed the standard of literacy, numeracy and oral skills of school leavers they recruited as 'poor' or 'very poor.'
"Our survey amounts to a condemnation of Britain's education system, which is, self-evidently, turning out school leavers who are socially inept and unprepared for the world of work," said Len Collinson, National Chairman of the FPB.
The study showed that, as far as school leavers' life skills are concerned, almost half of employers felt their young recruits' timekeeping was poor, and more than a quarter thought the general courtesy of school leavers towards colleagues and customers was equally dismal.
Three-quarters of employers rated school leavers' ability to properly address a letter as either 'poor or very poor', and almost two-thirds were equally damning of ex-pupils' ability to take a simple telephone message.
"School leavers all know their rights, but do not consider their responsibilities," said Ann Pinnington, managing director of a plastics manufacturer based in Wrexham.
"They lack presentation skills and do not take their appearance into consideration. They need to learn a few simple things such as manners, courtesy, respect for others, a willingness to start at the bottom, and, most important of all, how to spell."
As another respondent pointed out, "qualifications are so invalidated that many employers now have the additional task of making their own assessment of any applicant, irrespective of their apparent qualifications."
Other employers said they were horrified by the decline in educational standards.
"As an ex-teacher, I am horrified at the abysmal standards of school leavers that Britain is churning out," said Kate Owen, managing director of Opal Crafts Ltd, a London wholesale company.
"Bog standard schools are churning out pupils and leavers with low confidence, poor social skills and very poor educational standards. Our company does not consider taking them on."
"They are ignorant, illiterate, innumerate, bad mannered, want everything handed to them on a plate, and fall apart emotionally if they don't get what they want," complained another.
"The education system and the children who are going through it could benefit enormously from turning the clock back 40 years."
The FPB's Len Collinson said that employers wanted to see teachers and parents focus more on the basic 3Rs and essential 'life skills'.
"There should be a greater emphasis placed on teaching 'social skills', such as encouraging pupils to communicate clearly, instilling a modicum of respect for others, and promoting in them enthusiasm for a useful working life.
"Positive action like this could well be supported by parents and employers, who both have an interest in school leavers being better prepared for the world of work. We realise employers have to be engaged by education institutions."
In the meantime, however, the attitude of many employers was summed up by London restaurateur, Jeremy Rose.
"British school leavers are not qualified for anything except getting drunk and not turning up for work."