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Last Updated: Monday, 2 February, 2004, 17:10 GMT
Employers oppose exams overhaul
classroom scene
The CBI says firms understand the present system
Businesses say they do not want A-levels and GCSEs to be replaced in England with a new diploma.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said employers knew and respected the existing qualifications.

In its submission to the review of 14 to 19 education, the CBI said the priority was to improve basic skills.

But the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, stressed that no-one was contemplating proposals that would fail to address employers' needs.

'Real priorities'

The review team - led by former Ofsted chief Mike Tomlinson - is due to produce an interim report next month.

The CBI's director general, Digby Jones, told a seminar on lifelong learning that a consultation with employers all over England had shown they did not believe scrapping existing qualifications was the best way to boost youngsters' skills and employability.

He said: "I support many of the working group's objectives but business does not believe revolution is the way to achieve them.

"Scrapping existing exams would destroy an educational standard known, understood and respected by employers.

"Worst of all, the upheaval of bringing in a new diploma would actually damage young people's education by diverting enormous amounts of time and effort from the real priorities."

In its submission to the Tomlinson review, the CBI said "business wants young people who deliver and make a difference, with at least numeracy and literacy and the right attitude".

It acknowledged that "educational outcomes" were improving - but said the top priority should be "the long tail of low achievers".

It expressed concern that vocational options were seen as being for low achievers, and too often failed those whom they should serve.


The Tomlinson review is looking at strengthening vocational studies and setting up a framework of qualifications with an encompassing diploma of achievement.

Options might include a more wide-ranging, Baccalaureate-style qualification at advanced level - a route adopted by the Welsh Assembly.

"Our concern is that the diploma would take the focus away from low achievement and would confuse employers," the CBI said.

But the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, said the comments did not seem to reflect his discussions with the organisation.

"Neither I nor the Tomlinson Working Group could contemplate coming forward with proposals that failed to address the needs of employers," he said. "I have made this point repeatedly."

"At no stage has anyone suggested that the current system should be completely dismantled.

"The priority is to make sure that young people have access to the vocational and academic qualifications they need and employers want."

There would be plenty of time to discuss the interim proposals before the final report was published for consultation in July.


Lecturers' union Natfhe, which represents many college staff, said the CBI was being "short-sighted".

"The status quo exam system of GSCEs and A-levels continue to foster an educational divide that fail the majority of young people in the UK," it said.

"A system that caters for students of all abilities, broadens the curriculum and equally recognises academic and vocational achievement is long overdue."

A broader curriculum, which incorporated core general education, specialist and supplementary components would gain credibility once it was understood.

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