Are we missing the opportunity to strengthen the skills capacity of our future workforce? This is a question often asked in relation to the UK’s policy on skills and its growing inability to deliver tangible outcomes for labour market success.
The government’s recent decision to abandon its plans to introduce an English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a welcomed approach to strengthening the workforce of the future. New proposals to reform the current GCSE system will instead see the implementation of a new school accountability measure which will be made up of eight subjects and unlike the EBacc, will include creative ones. However, is the government’s inability to stay the course in creating a sound education policy a cause for concern?
The Education Secretary, Michael Gove’s previous proposal for an EBacc certificate as a step change in standards was subjected to a vast array of scrutiny. Despite much emphasis being placed on creative industries’ contribution to the UK economy, it appeared contradictory that the government did not plan to include arts subjects in the new qualification, displaying a lack of support in terms of encouraging and investing in the talent pipeline required for those sectors and to sustain economic prosperity.
Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg, recently called for the government to rethink its plans on the English Baccalaureate stating: “…the government’s plans to introduce a narrow subject range of English Baccalaureate certificates will undermine our future economic position, not strengthen it”.
Further concerns were also raised by the Education Select Committee, questioning the government’s attempt at making too many changes too fast. The pace of change must be balanced and proportionate to accommodate other reforms, such as a revised secondary National Curriculum, and to ensure the highest standard of academic delivery.
The REC appreciates the government’s resolve to address the shortfalls of the education system. However, in maintaining the country’s ability to compete in the global market, changes to the education system should prioritise subjects that are directly relevant to those industries deemed key to the UK’s economic growth.
The planned changes have been presented as a potential solution to the growing skills disconnect often highlighted by employers. Schools are continuously criticised for not adequately preparing young people with the functional skills they need for the workplace and businesses are left to ‘pick up the slack’ and bridge the gap created by the current system. The question therefore remains as to whether the problem lies with the system of GCSEs or with the schools fundamental lack of engagement with students in effective careers guidance, work experience and mentoring.
It is welcome that the government has decided to address the concerns of the creative industries. This will not only give way to a more balanced curriculum, but will maintain the strength of Britain’s creative economy. There is certainly a need for the government to reframe its perspective to prevent unintended consequences and the adverse long-term impact on the skills held by young people leaving school to enter the workforce.