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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 08:31 GMT
Poor report for workplace exam
exam candidate
Students are struggling under the weight of new exams
School children are refusing to sit a qualification which aims to prepare them for their first job.

A report leaked to BBC Wales has highlighted serious concerns in the Key Skills programme created to ease the fears of employers that some youngsters are leaving school unable to read and write properly or do basic arithmetic.

The testing side of the skills is a complete barrier

Babette Thomas, chair, National Training Federation of Wales

It claims many young people are voting with their feet and simply not sitting the Key Skills exam because they see it as irrelevant.

And the young people who need it most - those already in vocational training but who did not do well in school - find the scheme intimidating and costly.

The document to be published next week by the National Training Federation of Wales has highlighted serious shortcomings.

It claims that more able students who intend to go on to university consider the exam a waste of time as many universities do not insist on it.

Meanwhile, the people involved in implementing the Key Skills programme, launched two years ago, say the scheme is too intimidating and bureaucratic to benefit vocational trainees.

Students taking an exam
Key Skills test are "too much like school"

Malika Kaaba runs the Key Skills programme at Barry College.

She said exams are scheduled for one particular day and do not take into account that students may be on day-release and cannot afford to take a day off just to sit a two-hour exam.

She said: "The message from the colleges should be that there's a more flexible way of allowing the students to sit the exam."

Babette Thomas, who runs Network Training Services in Port Talbot and is the chair of the national federation, said young people who have left school with no qualifications do not find the scheme relevant to their job.

She said: "Unfortunately, the testing side of the skills is a complete barrier."

Employers have complained that the wrong sort of Key Skills were being taught in schools.

Poor performance

A study last year found representatives of different-sized firms from various sectors put most value on "wider skills" such as problem-solving and personal development.

Schools have concentrated on the so-called three "core skills" - numeracy, the ability to communicate and IT know-how.

The National Training Federation of Wales will call for more flexibility in what students are made to learn and how and when they are tested.

It says the difficulties are seriously damaging the attempts to improve skills in Wales.

Figures from Elwa, the post-16 education and training body in Wales, show the success rates in Modern Apprenticeships are just 15% and in National Traineeships are 13%.

The report pins the blame for this poor achievement rate on the poor performance of Key Skills.

BBC Wales's Adrian Masters
"It says one of the main difficulties is a lack of flexibility."
See also:

25 May 01 | Education
So what are Key Skills?
25 May 01 | Education
Tests changed after security breach
21 May 01 | Education
Review of test papers security
11 Apr 01 | Education
New exams 'stress out' sixth formers
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