English and maths must become a long-term priority for us all
Towards the end of 2014, Nick Boles, in a response to an enquiry into the importance of English and maths in the workplace, said this:
“The Government has understood a very simple thing, which is that in the future, there will almost be no jobs where you do not need a mastery of English and maths. We’ve ensured that you have to go on studying English and maths at a further education college, in an apprenticeship or in a traineeship, until you have achieved a decent level of qualification.”
Despite their importance, Department of Education figures released today highlight our failure to support young people who have not achieved this minimum GCSE requisite at 16, by the time they reach 19.
The cohort, aged 19 in 2014, who undertook a level 2 qualification in English and maths at 16 (nearly always GCSE), stood at just above 626,000 young people. Of those, only 58% achieved A*-C in English and maths GCSE by the end of school.
The remaining 41%, or 263,000 young people, left school at 16 without an English or maths GCSE. Only a mere 9.1% of these gained an A*-C in English or maths by 19. This translates to nearly 239,000 19-year-olds today without a GCSE in English or maths, who are now cut off from state-funded education.
We are not in the business of suggesting that GCSEs guarantee jobs, but from our recent research into employability Ready for Work, we know these two vital things:
- those who leave school with only GCSE-level qualifications (or less) are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as those with better qualifications, and,
- a study by McKinsey shows that around a quarter of employers left entry-level vacancies unfilled last year because they could not find recruits with the right skills.
The importance of English and maths GCSEs to employers should not be underestimated. In its First Steps report, the Confederation for British Industry (CBI) states:
“Every young person must master a range of core subjects to an adequate level – including critically maths, English, and the sciences…. These are core because only when young people have reached a sufficient standard in them can they make substantive progress in their studies and wider life. They furnish the essential scaffolding for gaining other knowledge and skills, whether in the classroom or a workplace.”
With many employers reliant on using the minimum English and maths GCSE attainment as an indicator for potential employment, it is shocking to see such poor progression rates for 19-year-olds who were unable to gain a C in either subject whilst at school. The longer-term ramifications of this pattern can be the difference between a bright future, versus a period spent not in employment, education and training (NEET).
Impetus-PEF is calling on every political party to commit publicly – this side of the election – to raising the standards of further education and refocusing public funding to that end. If we are serious about ensuring all our young people succeed, effective support to help young people gain these vital qualifications in English and maths is urgently required.
We do not take this issue lightly. We urge government, employers and educators to start collaborating better to ensure each and every young person is able to leave education, at whichever level it may be, equipped with the capabilities, tools and inspiration required for the workplace. This must become a long-term priority for us all.