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Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2007, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Teenagers face basic skills tests
computer room
CBI members were pleased with youngsters' computer skills
The August exam results season would not seem complete without a complaint about school leavers' skills from the employers' organisation the CBI.

But its central point - that many lack the sort of basic skills in communication and numeracy to function effectively in the workplace - is acknowledged by the Westminster government.

The report of the Tomlinson committee on 14 to 19 learning said even those with apparently good GCSE grades in maths and English did not necessarily have "functional" abilities.

In its response, the government accepted this.

The then education secretary, Ruth Kelly, said: "Too many young people are unattractive to employers, deficient in the basics of English and maths."

She announced that the GCSEs would be revised to incorporate a test in functional skills.

Without passing this, no-one in future would be able to achieve a grade C or above.

Pilots

The new versions will not be available before the turn of the decade, however.

As an immediate step, the school league tables were changed to show the proportion of pupils who achieve at least five good GCSEs or the equivalent including English and maths GCSEs, albeit in their current discredited form.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority was given the job of changing the exams - in ICT (information and communication technology) as well as English and maths.

It has been working closely with its sister organisations in Wales - where there are concerns about the title "functional English" - and in Northern Ireland.

A three-year pilot programme to try out the functional skills qualifications is due to begin next month in about 700 centres including schools, colleges, work-based learning providers and prisons.

They will be offered at a basic Level 1 and at Level 2 (GCSE standard).

Database

The QCA gives the following example of Level 2 skills:

"A self-employed boiler engineer is able to set up a database of customers, with names, addresses and job details, so that a mailing list can be created to remind clients of boiler maintenance and to ensure that all work undertaken is accurately recorded."

To make the qualifications as widely accessible as possible they will be both standalone tests and components of both GCSEs and the new Diplomas.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said an example of the maths might be knowing how to work out compound interest and how to apply that to a business loan or a mortgage.

"Pupils will still be required to have deep and broad subject knowledge but pupils must also show that they have a strong grasp of the basics in order to get a good grade," he said.

"We're glad that the CBI praise the excellent IT skills of school leavers. But it is right to demand education and teaching keeps pace with the rising demands of employers for skills across the workforce.

"That's why we're improving skills training across the board, working with employers to introduce new Diplomas, expanding apprenticeships and raising the participation age to 18."


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