CBI chief attacks 'shameful' education system with 'culture of low aspiration'

Richard Lambert, Director general of the CBI

Attack: Richard Lambert warns a generation of students are being cast adrift without the skills to succeed in business

Britain should be 'ashamed' of its state education system and the 'culture of low aspiration' it has bred, according to the country's top business leader.

Richard Lambert, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said millions of pounds were being wasted in schools because of ministers' constant 'messing around' with policy.

He warned a generation of students was being cast adrift without the skills to succeed in business and that exam results were falling behind key competitors.

And he said it was shocking that Britain now had one of the highest proportions of Neets - those not in employment, education or training - in the Western world.

His outspoken attack comes four months after the CBI called for a hike in tuition fees to safeguard the quality of university education.

In an interview with the Guardian, he said: 'If you look at all the data you see as a country we spend a lot on educating kids, but the outcomes aren't great.

'There's a very long tail of under-performance. I think this is more than an educational issue; it's a social and cultural issue as well.

'Part of the story is the correlation between deprivation and poor academic outcomes, which are more marked in this country than we ought to be able to contemplate. We ought to be ashamed of the numbers.'

Mr Lambert said businesses were struggling to recruit people with the right skills, despite the recession which has seen much greater competition for jobs.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls

Schools Secretary Ed Balls: 'I know from the business leaders I talk to across the country that most are very happy with the education system'

Some employers have had to provide remedial classes to bring staff up to speed on the 3Rs. He pointed to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which showed Britain trailing behind Western nations on a range of indicators.

He said: 'The OECD figures show we have more drunkenness in students than any other country in the OECD; we have the fourth highest cohort of Neets after Turkey, Italy and Mexico: that can't be something we can be proud of.

'There is an absolutely straight correlation between GCSE results and free school meals; a straight line so the most deprived get the worst results.' Although he said the failures go back to at least the 1960s, he said Labour had to shoulder some of the blame.

'I would be critical of the government in the way that policy has seemed like a bit of a kaleidoscope,' he said. 'There are lots of initiatives, quite complex initiatives like the diplomas programme. Very, very complicated.

'I would hate to be a headteacher having to handle diplomas and GCSEs and A Levels and not quite knowing the extent to which they are going to be sustained or not sustained. I do think there has been a lot of messing around.'

Last night schools secretary Ed Balls said: 'Of course every individual business leader is entitled to his or her opinion. But I know from the business leaders I talk to across the country that most are very happy with the education system, especially the extra numbers of young people we are getting to stay on and further their education; and our focus on the basics of English and maths.'


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