In 2013, Michael Gove announced changes to the education system which aimed to rescue this lack of essential – but wholly academic – skills from having a detrimental effect on young people’s futures, businesses and therefore the economy. The new GCSE and A Level system, set in motion as we speak, is set to ‘equip our children to go onto higher education or a good apprenticeship’ according to Gove: “That means more extended writing in subjects like English and history; more testing of advanced problem-solving skills in mathematics and science; more testing of mathematics in science GCSEs, to improve progression to A Levels; more challenging mechanics problems in physics; a stronger focus on evolution and genetics in biology; and a greater focus on foreign language composition, so that pupils require deeper language skills.”
This all sounds rather impressive to the unaffected bystander, but British firms are struggling more and more, according to CIMA research, to find skilled candidates for junior roles: 31% of firms more than two months to fill junior roles, and on appointment, three quarters need further training. More than 90% of those surveyed in the UK reported that their workload had increased as a result of skills shortages, with 46% agreeing it had caused a fall in departmental performance. However, the top areas of weakness for new recruits seem to be much more on the side of ‘soft skills’, such as people skills alongside essential business know-how rather than the more academic skills that Gove advocates. With the new GCSE and A Level system focusing more and more on academics, and getting students from one education system to the next, these more ‘real-world’ skills seem to be getting gradually left by the wayside, creating concern in the business community.
With the A Level system catered to a certain niche criteria (i.e. to help students get into university) it seems education has lost touch with its application in the real world. For those who leave education at 18, or even 16 and wish to pursue a career in business, the possibilities are suddenly fairly limited without a huge amount of additional work experience that can only be achieved in a student’s own time.
Although these subjects aren’t necessarily viewed by most as ‘essential’, in particular in the eyes of current academia, the trend that our education system seems to be reverting to is a worrying one. What is deemed a ‘soft’ subject by academics is not a realistic reflection on the needs of either young people or businesses – or indeed the future workforce.
His article, however, goes on to trace the template for our own educational system back to the now vanished, though never to be forgotten, military state of Prussia.