CBI: Schools produce exam robots, says CBI chief
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Schools produce exam robots, says CBI chief

Michael Gove’s school reforms risk squeezing out a rounded education by focusing too much on exam results, the head of the CBI has warned

John CridlandThis article appeared in The Times, Wednesday, November 20

John Cridland told The Times that many schools produced pupils who were “exam robots” with little to encourage heads to offer broad extra-curricular opportunities.

Business leaders wanted more focus from schools on creativity, curiosity, tenacity, self-confidence and good manners, as well as high academic standards, he said.

He criticised the Government’s changes to post-16 vocational qualifications as “a fog” and said he was confused by the plans.

Mr Cridland welcomed the thrust of Mr Gove’s reforms to GCSEs and A levels, which seek to add tougher content and more stretching end-of-course exams.

However, he said they failed to connect to broader “rounded and grounded” qualities sought by businesses in young people. They wanted more emphasis on character-building to foster qualities such as determination, optimism and emotional intelligence.

By focusing too much on academic results, the Department for Education (DfE) risked shifting focus and resources within schools away from sport, performing arts, trips and clubs, he said.

“It has got more difficult for schools. I think what he has done is necessary but not sufficient,” Mr Cridland said. “He should talk about rigour and we should be more rigorous and he has my vote to do that. If all you do is talk about rigour then the rounded and grounded-ness gets squeezed out.”

He added: “When I walk into a really inspirational school there is a whole education experience and all the components of that school contribute to that educational experience.”

Mr Cridland also criticised the Government for removing a requirement on schools to offer work experience for pupils at 15 or 16 and for making schools responsible for career guidance without extra funds or support to do it well.

He was speaking before making a speech today to a conference of head teachers a year after the CBI published a report on improvements needed in Britain’s schools. A new assessment by the CBI charts progress but highlights character development of young people as the weakest area.

“Employers want young people who are enthusiastic, confident, creative and resilient,not just exam robots,” the report says.

Mr Cridland called for Ofsted to have a broader remit to judge schools across the range of their extra-curricular experiences, rather than focusing chiefly on exam or test results, in the same way as annual company reports.

Head teachers should be encouraged to offer a broad education with new guidance from the Government, and heads and teachers should have better career development and training, including secondments to industry.
“It would help if more teachers and head teachers had experience outside the classroom. We should try to encourage that, so they don’t go from school to university, teacher training, back into the classroom without having stepped out of the education world into the world they are helping to serve.”

He praised the Government for trying to improve technical education, with plans for a “TechBacc” at 18, combining a vocational qualification, extended maths, a project and work experience, but he admitted he did not understand the details and called for new vocational A levels instead.

 Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange, a think-tank with close links to Mr Gove, said a focus on academic rigour should have broader benefits. He said: “These wider skills are important. There is lots of evidence from cognitive science and behavioural economics showing this. However, it isn’t an either or. The evidence shows that skills are developed through subject mastery.”

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