It's skills not exam pass rates that count

Aug 19 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Rather than becoming fixated on the number of students who pass or fail A-Levels, employers, politicians and teachers should simply be ensuring workers of the future come into employment equipped with the right skills, employers have said.

With A-Level results yesterday showing an increase in pass rates for the 23rd consecutive year, the Confederation of British Industry has said students and teachers deserve praise not criticism for the high numbers of passes.

Director-general Sir Digby Jones said: "The A-Level brand is recognised and understood by employers as the 'gold standard'. The Government is right to stick with it, whilst seeking to maintain its integrity and finding ways to stretch the brightest students."

But that is not to say employers should be complacent about the level of skills seen by students leaving school and coming into workplaces.

The CBI has also highlighted a serious long-term decline in the number of students taking physics, chemistry and languages A-Levels.

Its analysis of Government figures earlier this week showed the number of 16- to 18-year-olds taking A-Level physics had more than halved between 1984 and 2004 while those taking chemistry had declined by a third.

Just one in 25 students studied a modern language at A-Level with very few studying those needed by business in the increasingly globalised world, such as Mandarin, Russian or Spanish, it added.

"The biggest concern should be ensuring students are encouraged to take A Level subjects which will equip them for the modern world of work, rather than fixating on the exact percentage that pass," said Sir Digby.

"We need young people coming into the workplace with the science and language skills that will equip us to compete in the world economy," he added.

The Federation of Small Businesses has urged those picking up their A-Level results yesterday not to discount starting up a business as a credible alternative to costly university degrees or "nine-to-five graduate jobs".

FSB education chairman Norman Mackel said: "After three years of exams, A-level students can feel like they are on a production line with university and conventional employment the only logical next steps in the process.

"But the world of work has changed significantly over the last few years and young people really do have a choice. More and more people are seeing self employment as the more attractive option."