19 October 2015

The Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called for reform to Britain’s education system.

Speaking at a business dinner at West Nottinghamshire College on 15 October, John Cridland CBE said it was time for an overhaul of the way young people are set on the path to a successful working life.

Addressing an audience of business leaders, council chiefs, educationalists, high-profile employers and VIPs, including emfec Chief Executive Paul Eeles, Mr Cridland said:

“How can one of the richest countries on earth, with four of the world’s top-10 universities, have 40% of young people leaving the education system at the age 16 without the basic qualifications for their working life?”

Urging businesses to do more to engage young people at primary school age, he said:

“Within primary schools you can make an even bigger impact. We all know a child aged seven will pick up a foreign language a lot quicker than a teenager aged 17 – so why do we focus on young people in the latter stages of their learning when we can influence them more in the earlier stages?

“Maybe by doing that, we will get things right for the next generation.”

Repeating his calls for GCSEs to be scrapped in favour of a single curriculum for 14 to 18-year-olds, he said:

“I think it is time we retired GCSEs because they have exceeded their shelf-life. I am a great believer in academic standards but I think we have now reached a point where the national tests should be at 18. We should have a single curriculum for 14-18 year-olds, with as many vocational routes as academic routes – all leading to qualifications of equal status.”

Mr Cridland outlined his future vision for the way the further education sector operates – and cited West Nottinghamshire College, an emfec member, as a source of inspiration.

He said: “What I want are further education colleges that really get behind apprenticeships and work closely with their local employers to become the beacon in their communities; working with many thousands of employers to deliver bespoke vocational training.

“What’s happening in this college needs to be happening in every college. What’s happening in Mansfield should be happening in every town and city in Britain – and there is absolutely no reason why it can’t.”

The event, held in the college’s fine-dining restaurant Refined, at its Derby Road campus in Mansfield, represented one of Mr Cridland’s final official public engagements before he steps down from the role that he has held for the last five years, in December.

He reserved special praise for the college’s Principal and Chief Executive, Dame Asha Khemka, saying:

“I do not know a leader in British further and higher education more impressive and more talented than Dame Asha. I just wish we had 400 of her.

“The single most important thing we, as citizens, can do to promote the economic and social wellbeing of our country is invest in education. And the answer to how you do it is here in Mansfield. That’s why I wanted to end my term in office here.

“I am therefore optimistic about the future – because if we just do it like Dame Asha’s done it, it will come good.”

Dame Asha said: “We were truly honoured that John accepted our invitation to share with us his unique wisdom from the world of business.

“John has been a great ambassador for our country and a formidable champion for education and training in enabling business success. He has also been an amazing advocate for the critical role colleges play in building and sustaining our essential skills landscape. It was therefore fitting that he joined us in one of his last public engagements in his current role.

“As director-general of the CBI, John has recognised and promoted the intrinsic link of industry, education and community as a foundation for economic prosperity. It is through such a model, and with the support of partners such as those at this event, that the college continues to thrive and achieve success.”