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Exams do not equip students with critical workplace skills, says new report

Our new report shows that the exam results driven culture of the EBacc and new GCSEs and A levels is leaving less opportunity for students to develop digital skills, creative thinking, teamwork and other critical workplace skills.

How are schools developing real employability skills? is a piece of work we’ve collaborated on with Education and Employers and the National Education Union. We carried out a literature review of ten years work in this area and then spoke to employers to identify the 12 skills and competencies critical for the workplace. Then we asked over 600 teachers where in the school day students had the opportunity to learn and develop this skills.

Examinations were consistently at the bottom of the list of activities considered the best way for students to develop any of the employability skills. Work in the classroom was overwhelmingly seen as most beneficial to developing skills, with 94 per cent of teachers surveyed saying that the top five skills demanded by employers are fostered during the school day. Extra-curricular activities such as learning to play a musical instrument or sports, were rated highly for building communication, teamwork, creativity and confidence.

Worringly, two thirds of teachers surveyed believe that the focus on content at GCSE and A level means there are fewer opportunities for students to develop creative thinking. Over half thought the same about teamwork, confidence and communication, while 49 per cent say that the narrower EBacc curriculum and funding cuts are impacting on the development of digital skills.

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation, said,

This report brings together a wealth of evidence which shows that the curriculum is not meeting the needs of our young talent or industry. A clutch of exam certificates is not going to bag you that top job or help you develop a glittering career. Our global, digital economy demands a completely different set of skills, competencies and aptitudes. Teachers and employers recognise than the Government’s 19th century curriculum is simply not fit for purpose to prepare young people for the 21st century workplace.’

In the Government’s 2018, Employer Perspectives Survey, only 46 per cent of employers surveyed said academic qualifications were significant or critical when hiring. The report highlights how creative and technical subjects – widely regarded as best for teaching key ‘employability skills’, are being squeezed out of the curriculum in favour of academic subjects assessed by exam.

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said,

‘This is innovative and timely research. Both the OCED and World Economic Forum have recently emphasised the need for young people to gain a range of transferable skills in order to meet the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. The research shows that schools are working hard to deliver these skills. However, the government is hampering these efforts with cuts to education funding, an increasingly narrow curriculum and a focus on endless testing.’

Dr Elnaz Kashefpakdel, Head of Research at Education and Employers, said,

‘Talking to teachers has shed light onto valuable practices in class and during a school day, that helps young people with the skills they need for their transitions to adulthood. However, more needs to be done to raise their awareness of every day developments made through education and that partly can be done through engagements with the world of work. Learning about CVs and interviews, and how the world of work looks like through employers’ eyes, can flesh out the relationship between what they learnt in school and their future.’