Employability must be put at the heart of England's education system if businesses are going to get the skills they need from the workforce of the future, employers have warned.
John Sutherland, president of the Confederation of British Industry, giving the Chartered Institute of Management's annual Sir Kenneth Cork Lecture, said English education policy had failed to address what the country wanted from its children and what society as a whole wanted to gain from public education.
There had been immense change in structure, management, control, content and methods of education over many years but why or how such changes might improve economic performance or give English society a better future had seldom been raised as an issue, he suggested.
Sunderland said: "We need to have the humility and common sense to learn from the success of others. Finland, for example, has a world-renowned education system which has played a major part in its economic transformation. As a country, it has an almost universal belief in the value of education and clearly links personal, social and national goals.
"Selection is not necessarily the answer to driving up standards or building public confidence in the school system but motivation certainly is.
"Finnish children are not perfect, some do misbehave and go off-the-rails, but they have nothing like the educational underclass we see in England – children who expect nothing from education, put nothing into it, and get nothing back," he added.
What was needed, he argued, was for employability to be put at the heart of the education system.
"We need a tangible link between education and economic success. Governments of all political hues have aspired towards it – but it has yet to be achieved," he said.
"There is still too much wasted effort in education - too many outputs from a system which contributes debatable value to student development or the economy.
"Let education provision in England be driven by employers' needs rather than the confused and conflicting messages of politics. If education delivers the employees business wants, business will reward them, promote them and prove to them and future generations that education matters," he continued.
"I'm not saying that business wants to write the curriculum but, at a time when globalisation provides both a challenge and an opportunity, it does want to spell out what it needs.
"It needs the right attitudes and basic skills, meaningful qualifications, specialized science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills and creative thinking that will help it meet the ever changing demands of the global economy.
"Education and business should form a compact with schools and employers coming together to produce highly employable young people. This could be the real magic bullet to make our education system work.
"If young people are convinced that education will help them get on in the world and realise their ambitions we are already half way there," he concluded.