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Annie Hayes

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Editor’s Comment: Could do better?

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Annie Ward
If we pour scorn on the 16m workers with the reading and numeracy skills of our 11-year olds then we’ll either be accused of being ageist or deploying bully–boy tactics; so should we sweep the ‘could do better’ issues under the table in the name of PC-compliance?


The Economist reports (Jan 21) that the enemy of productivity is stupidity. Among other things it says that, “Long-standing deficiencies in education mean that the British workforce has a much higher share of low-skilled people than is the case in most other developed countries.”

And according to the report despite an investment of billions, the government’s Skills for Life scheme has done little to improve the quality of adult literacy and numeracy teaching.

MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee claim that almost £6bn will have been spent on the scheme by 2010. However its first few years have delivered little evidence of improvements in the provision of literacy and numeracy classes in colleges or in on-the-job training by employers, the committee said.

Accordingly, it says that 12 million people in employment have level one literacy skills and 16 million level one numeracy skills – equivalent to what is expected of an 11-year-old. The number of people under-skilled in both aspects is unknown.

And lets face it 16 million is hardly a drop in the ocean, more like a small tributary and if we convert the figure to pounds and pennies then we get an idea of the scale of the problem – a lottery win of that size would be worthy of a champagne lifestyle.

It’s amazing that such a huge number of the British workforce are getting by on such basic school-room skills and an embarrassment that the cost of employing this workforce is so huge compared to the return.

For an 11-year olds skill-set we’re expecting employers to fork-out the minimum wage, parental payments and holiday and sickness wages to boot. It’s little wonder that news out this week reveals that many bosses are turning to offshoring to plug their woes.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) the escalating costs of business in the UK has been estimated to have resulted in 30,000 jobs being offshored each year since the turn of the century.

And even if bosses do get lucky and find an IQ above that of the average school kids then the other potential productivity fall-out is booze.

Furthermore, reported in the Times is a report that reveals that 63% of employees pull a sickie rather than battle their way to work through a 17-tequila hangover.

Lack of education it seems is not the only enemy of the UK’s productivity lag.

And as to the cause of our lag in standards well that’s being pinned on the poor quality of provision and teaching who also seemingly failed to include the impact of binge-drinking in the course curriculum.

No wonder much of the source of our back-slapping 30-year employment high is actually migrant labour, after all they’re probably cheaper and better educated then anyone dragged through the UK’s system.

So could we do better? Well frankly yes – there’s not much hope of getting out of the productivity doldrums if we continue to turn a blind eye to what is going on in the classrooms of Britain. But what can be done – clearly investment to date has been a waste of money – perhaps Jamie’s school dinners and the power of brain-food will have more luck in swelling our nations’ brain cells.

I’d like to hear your views, let me know your thoughts and comments – remember you can remain anonymous if you so wish.

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One Response

  1. On the fence…
    I think it’s probably safe to say that the alarming lack of ability to read, write and add up of many adults is harming british productivity.

    However I object to the Economist’s use of “stupidity” to define this group of people. It is not their fault that an education system run by the middle class for the middle class is failing them. It is not their fault that they attend schools with no discipline, inept teaching staff, and with an educational mission so far out of keeping with their needs and abilities that they are left to fail.

    When our political leadership appreciate that in order to teach people to read and write you need to engage them and teach them skills that they may actually need in later life rather than a mixed bag of nice to have if you’re going to university subjects, then people may begin to realise their potential.

    The priority of education should be to teach the “3 r’s” and then to give each child skills that match both their aspiration and ability to enable them to best function in society.

    Why these skills should be deemed to be History, R.E., Geography, Latin, Biology, Physics and so on is beyond me.

    Why not teach the things that might enable them to find employment if university is beyond them?

    Such as Carpentry, Brick laying, Pipe fitting, and so on?

    Because no-one wants to admit that if 50% of all adults will go to university (which in itself is devalued by such ludicrous targets – the idea of academic excellence becomes academic ordinariness) then 50% will not and this 50% will thus need a different education.

    What use is Shakespeare on an inner city council estate? It may enrich one or two lives but the majority will find it irrelevant and incomprehensible.

    So it’s time that the philisophy “every child matters” espoued by government – actually meant something.

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