John Cridland, CBI Director-General, had this to say on this year’s A-Level results:
On overall A Level grades
“Genuine concern over grade inflation in recent years means we should not beat ourselves up if grades and overall passes don’t go up each and every year.
“What’s more important is that we have an education system which fully prepares young people for life outside the school and college gates, with the skills and character to do well in life and to get an opportunity to show what they can do.
On the rise in entries for sciences, maths and computing
“Computing skills are essential in a modern economy with employers crying out for more people with higher level digital skills, so the boost in entries is great news. But the fact that only 7.5% of candidates are female shows that computing is still seen as a closed shop to young women, so we need action now to address this. We’re seeing some progress on gender balance in other traditionally male-dominated subjects like physics, so it can be done.
“Growth and jobs in the future will depend on closing our yawning skills gap and the UK having a workforce that can exploit new technologies, so it’s great to see entries up in the sciences, and maths now the number one A-level choice, reflecting our call for more students to study maths up to 18.
“Highly-skilled workers are essential for our growth sectors so these qualifications carry a real premium with employers. It will be those young people with science and maths qualifications who go on to become engineers and new tech entrepreneurs in the future.”
On the fall in entries for French, German and Spanish
“Europe remains our largest export market so to see yet another fall in the languages used on our very doorstep is a blow.
“It has been a worry to see foreign language study in our schools under such sustained pressure and it will be some time yet before we know whether making foreign language study compulsory for pupils at key stage 2 has made any difference. It is important that young people considering their future subject choices are made aware of just how useful studying a foreign language can be for their careers.”
The 2014 CBI/Pearson education and skills survey found that many businesses find knowledge of a foreign language can be beneficial to their business (41%) and helpful in building relations with overseas contacts (28%). The foreign languages rated as useful include: French 50%; German 49%; Spanish 44%; Mandarin 31%; Arabic 23%; Polish 19%; Russian 18%; Cantonese 16%; Japanese 15%; Portuguese 11% (and other 16%).
On more students going to university
“University is a passport to success for many young people – and graduates are in high demand by employers. But there are other equally successful routes to a great career – including high quality apprenticeships – and we know that “earn while you learn” options, which provide top-quality training and avoid tuition fees, are increasingly attractive. It’s not just universities competing hard for young talent, but businesses too.
“We need to ensure that all young people have the information they need to make informed choices about the right path for them.”
On the CBI’s Future Possible report aiming to create more opportunities for young people
“We need to reform Ofsted so that schools focus on not just academic progress but on the development of young people’s character, resilience and willingness to go the extra mile.
“There is a disconnect between too many young people’s perceptions of work and the reality. Schools, the Government and business must work harder to offer young people a better experience of the workplace. That means giving them a real taste of working life through shadowing opportunities, site visits or virtual workplace tours, as well as the more traditional two week placement.”
The CBI/Pearson education and skills survey found that the most important factors employers weigh up when recruiting school and college leavers are their attitudes to work (85%), their general aptitudes (63%) and literacy and numeracy (44%). These rank well ahead of formal academic results (30%).
Too many young people leave education not equipped with enough knowledge of their chosen job/career (school leavers 56%, graduates 30%) or relevant work experience (school leavers 55%, graduates 37%).
However, Verity O’Keefe, Education Policy Adviser at EEF, was concerned about the gender divide: “With more and more vacancies to fill, manufacturers will be breathing a sigh of relief that the take up of STEM subjects at A-level has increased for the 5th year in a row. Without a doubt, students who have achieved top grades in these subjects have significantly boosted their employability and their chances of enjoying a successful and sustainable career.
“However, the overall increase in the take-up of STEM subjects disguises a mixed bag. While we welcome the fact that the number of girls studying physics has increased by 4.7% year-on-year there is still a significant gap between the number of boys taking this subject compared to girls. We’re heading in the right direction, but we need a concerted effort between government, industry and the education sector to continue driving students into STEM, but to also close this yawning gender gap.
“The major focus must be on radically overhauling careers provision so that every student – male or female – understands the impact A-level subject choices can have on their future career and is fully aware of the opportunities for those who choose wisely.”