CBI - First Steps: A New Approach for Our Schools

First published on Tue, November 20, 2012.

This report from CBI warns that the current “ conveyor-belt” exam system “fosters a cult of the average” and allows a considerable minority of children to fall behind early and never catch up.

Britain spends more on education than most other developed nations, but performs relatively poorly in international league tables. As the CBI see it, “the challenge lies not in what we spend, but in what we do”. Although the Coalition government have embarked on a package of reforms to the qualifications system, the report, which marks the launch of the CBI’s new education campaign, argues that change needs to be more radical and more ambitious.

The current system encourages teachers to focus on making sure that all pupils gain at least C grades in GCSE exams. This narrow definition of achievement fosters under-performance because the most able students are not stretched and those who need additional support are side-lined. Meanwhile, many pupils are channeled into ‘soft-option’ courses, regardless of whether or not these courses will have value and relevance in their future lives.


• Schools should be encouraged to focus on individual needs and aptitudes, and should strive to develop well-rounded pupils with the skills, attitudes and capabilities that they will need to thrive in society and the workplace.

• Assessment should be more rigorous and more diverse, and should not focus unduly on assessment at 16. The main summative exam in our education systems should be at 18, and a gold standard will be required for technical and vocational routes just as much as for academic ones.

• Pupils should be given scope to focus on technical education from age 14 onwards, in combination with a tailored core skills curriculum. Pupils should be given the option to move to institutions such as the growing number of university technical colleges.

• The report is highly critical of the proposed English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC) on the basis that high stakes exam-based testing at 16 prevents many pupils from progressing towards achievement at aged 18. The report encourages policy makers to address fundamental questions about the role and purpose of examinations that take place before 18.

• Schools should ensure achievement in core subjects (English, maths, science, languages and history) as well as ‘enabling subjects’ – including creative ones – which “expand and enhance the core subjects”. • Employability skills should not be treated as an ‘add-on’, to be taught as a separate component of the curriculum. Behaviours which make individuals employable must be developed over time, throughout the curriculum, from primary school onwards.

Policy Archive