• Our response to Education Select Committee report on exams

    An Education Select Committee report on the examination system has rejected moves to a single national exam board or to single boards for each subject.

    The Committee suggests that there should be a single national syllabus for each subject which would be accredited by the regulator, Ofqual, with every exam board able to set question papers against that syllabus.

    Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK said:

    “This is a thoughtful and rounded report, which tackles a number of complex issues in a sensitive and balanced way.

    “It is vital that we address the public perception that competition between awarding organisations leads to downward pressure on standards. Pearson is committed to being a partner in making the changes necessary to enable this. Nothing is more important than ensuring that the effort of pupils is rewarded with qualifications which everyone is confident represent the very best in educational standards, at home and abroad.

    “Awarding organisations already work closely with higher education, learned societies and employers to ensure that specifications support progression. However, the “National Syllabus” approach could deepen this and is worthy of further discussion. We welcome the intention to ensure that incentives to innovation in assessment, exam administration and support for schools remain strong, since we believe there is much scope to build on the progress of the last decade in this area.

    “A high quality and challenging curriculum needs to be accompanied by engaging and effective resources to bring them to life. Our endorsement procedures ensure we reward books which encourage broad and stretching teaching and learning. Pearson’s internal firewalls ensure that employees who have a responsibility for publishing have no knowledge of what will be on a given year’s exam paper. As the Report notes, Pearson is also currently considering approaches to contain the authoring activities of our senior examiners. We are in discussion with the regulator on this matter, and we will work with them to ensure public confidence in the system, and in Pearson, is assured. We note, too, the Committee’s recommendation on the treatment of other publishers’ resources on our website, and will reflect this.

    “We agree with the Committee that change cannot be pursued in isolation to reforms of the accountability system, which needs revision to reward schools for achieving high expectations for all learners, and offering a rounded education.”

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  • Our response to the proposals on O-Levels

    Following reports that Michael Gove wants to replace GCSEs with O-level style exams, we had this to say.

    A Pearson spokesperson said:

    “We look forward to seeing further details of the proposals discussed by the Secretary of State today.

    “We have repeatedly stated our commitment to working with Government to build a resilient examinations system which upholds high standards and has the confidence of the public. This is in the best interests of the hundreds of thousands of pupils who sit examinations in the UK each year.

    “It is right that the education system is challenged to reach for the standards achieved by our peers globally. We can and should be ambitious for all children and we support a system which delivers that.

    “We would have serious reservations about any approach which sets lower expectations for some at the age of 14. A new approach needs careful consideration to ensure it encourages high aspirations and expectations across the board, and doesn’t lower our ambitions for some students.”

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  • UK needs more high-level skills to compete for growth, says CBI and Pearson survey

    In a CBI/Pearson survey of 542 companies employing around 1.6 million people, 61% say school and college leavers don’t have enough self-management skills.

    The number of employers who are dissatisfied with school and college leavers’ basic skills remains stuck at around a third – the same as a decade ago(1) – with 42% reporting that they have had to provide remedial training for school and college leavers.

    The persistence of this finding suggests that there are structural issues within our schools that need to be addressed if we are to ensure every young person gets a good start in life. The CBI has recently launched a major project designed to address this issue.

    The survey also finds that as the UK competes ever more for business and talent in global markets, employers are looking to up-skill their workforces. Over the next three to five years, employers expect to need more people with leadership and management skills (a balance of +67%) and other higher skills (+61%), whereas for lower-skilled workers, they expect to slightly cut numbers (-3%).

    While half of employers (a balance of +51%) are confident that they will fill their low-skilled vacancies, they are not confident of meeting their need for higher-skilled employees (-15%).

    John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:

    “The UK’s growth will depend on developing a wider and deeper pool of skills so that our economy can prosper in the face of fierce international competition for business.

    “There is nothing more important to the future economic success of our country, and the lives of young people, than education.

    “The foundations for the development of higher-level skills and the essentials for working life, that employers require, are laid at school.

    “With the right start at school our young people can go on to have successful and fulfilling careers and have a strong base from which to learn more at college, university, or in the workplace.

    “But levels of educational attainment are rising fast in many leading and emerging economies, so in the UK we must ensure that our education and skills system can continue to compete at the cutting edge.”

    Rod Bristow, UK President of Pearson said:

    “The connection between education and the world of work is critically important. Employers and all of us working in education have a big task to address that connection properly. Despite improvements in the past decade, employers want to see an even sharper focus on literacy and numeracy, beginning at primary school. Literacy and numeracy are the basic building blocks that help young people learn other subjects, get on in life and find rewarding work.

    “But it’s not just about literacy and numeracy. Even the best-performing nations say the number one issue in education is to better equip school leavers with the broader skills needed for working life, and we are no exception. Employers still find that some young people lack the initiative, problem-solving and communication skills to succeed at work.”

    “But this survey should fuel optimism that the best and brightest firms are continuing to invest in education, work with schools and colleges and maintain their own investment in training.”

    Importance of school performance underlined by more businesses building links with schools

    Employers recognise that they have an important role to play helping students and schools understand what skills are needed for working life. More than a third have increased their engagement with schools in the past year (+39%), while just 7% have reduced it, giving a balance of +32%.

    • 57% have links with secondary schools
    • 56% with further education colleges
    • But only 20% with primary schools

    One of the most important roles which half of all employers already carry out is providing careers advice (51%), but it’s clear that more work needs to be done in this area, with 68% saying that the general quality of advice is still not good enough. More than 60% of respondents say they would like to play a greater role in delivering careers advice.

    In other areas, more than two thirds of employers (70%) provide work experience to students and around a third of employees (29%) act as governors. The survey found that some of the barriers to stepping up business involvement include insufficient guidance and support on how to make work experience placements worthwhile (26%), and onerous health and safety requirements (22%).

    When asked which areas of education they think primary schools should focus on, 61% of employers said numeracy, 58% writing, 45% reading, and 42% said communication skills. For secondary schools, employers say the main focus should be on developing broader skills for working life:

    • Employability skills – 71%
    • Literacy – 50%
    • Numeracy - 45%

    But, the survey finds that no one current qualification addresses the combination of literacy, numeracy and employability requirements effectively. While employers think that for numeracy, GCSE maths is the best qualification, they say that vocational qualifications best equip young people with the broader employability skills.

    Big growth in employer interest in ‘learn-while-you-earn’ approach

    One in five jobs (20%) requires graduate-level skills, particularly in professional services (70%). But most employers (63%) expect increases in tuition fees to change the market for graduate-level skills, with 30% expecting to receive fewer graduate applications in the future. As a result, more than a third of firms (38%) expect to expand their recruitment of school leavers and / or apprentices with A-levels to provide an alternative to graduate-level training. Among the largest employers, with more than 5,000 staff, this figure rises to 68%.

    John Cridland said:

    “With extra pressure on student budgets from changes to tuition fees, more employers are stepping in to offer a range of innovative ‘learn while you earn’ routes to higher-level skills.”

    Employers have increased apprenticeship places and maintained their spending on training

    Since the start of the Education & Skills survey five years ago, the number of businesses involved in apprenticeships has grown rapidly from 48% to 63% this year. More than half of employers (58%) say that they intend to expand their current apprenticeship programmes or plan to start providing apprenticeship places in the next three years. This is particularly encouraging in view of the end of government funding for programme-led apprenticeships and the need for all apprentices in the future to be sponsored by an employer.

    Small and medium-sized companies are still a relatively untapped market for apprenticeships. While 89% of organisations with over 5,000 staff are providing apprenticeships in 2012, this figure falls to 22% for firms with under 50 employees.

    In terms of action required to get more employers involved in apprenticeships, respondents highlighted the following:

    • Qualification programmes that are more relevant to business needs – 46%
    • Government support for firms to train more apprentices than they need – 37%
    • Greater flexibility for employers to design bespoke frameworks – 36%
    • More suitably qualified and motivated young people applying – 34%
    • Reductions in bureaucracy – 28%, rising to 57% for larger firms

    In November, the Government announced measures to reduce the amount of red tape around apprenticeships, but so far only 6% of employers say they have experienced a change.

    In the face of challenging economic conditions, the vast majority of employers (81%) plan to maintain or increase their spending on training over the coming year, but there are major differences between sectors. A balance of +17% of manufacturers say they are planning to increase spending, while -36% of public sector employers plan reductions. Two thirds of employers (67%) report that they intend to seek more cost effective ways of delivering training in the next year.

    John Cridland said:

    “Even in the difficult economic climate, business leaders recognise the importance of training and skills to their success and are investing now for the future.

    “It’s great news that apprenticeships are on the increase, but the system must be simplified to make it easier, especially for small and medium-sized firms to be involved. The Government has set out promising plans to cut red tape for apprenticeships, but we now we need to see urgent delivery on the ground.”

    Businesses need strong STEM skills to compete for growth

    Recruiting staff with strong science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) skills will help underpin the UK’ ability to compete and achieve growth in many major sectors like manufacturing, construction and engineering. People with STEM skills are recruited at every level from apprenticeship entry (43%), technicians (40%) and graduates (53%). But 42% of firms struggle to find the STEM talent they require.

    Businesses are well aware of the need to take steps to grow the talent pool of STEM skills, with 64% taking some action to encourage young people to pursue STEM subjects. 42% of organisations provide high-quality work placements, 39% engage with schools to encourage pupils to study STEM subjects and 35% provide STEM apprenticeships. More than two-thirds of employers (68%) think the Government can help future shortages by better promoting science and maths in schools, especially post-16.

    Languages will help open up new markets to UK companies

    Operating effectively in a global economy relies on the right language skills, but the UK has the worst language proficiency in Europe, according to the Education & Employer Taskforce. An overwhelming 72% of businesses say they value foreign language skills, most importantly for building relations with overseas contacts (39%). The major European languages continue to be the most in demand, but language skills geared towards doing business in China and the Middle East feature prominently:

    • German – 50%
    • French – 49%
    • Spanish – 37%
    • Mandarin – 25%
    • Polish 19%
    • Arabic – 19%

    John Cridland said:

    “Rebalancing our economy will mean tapping into high-growth markets in places like Asia and Latin America, so companies will need people with the relevant language skills to do business in these countries.”

    Notes on this story

    (1)- 35% are dissatisfied with school and college leavers’ literacy skills and 30% with their levels or numeracy. These figures are broadly unchanged from 2003 when CBI data showed that 34% were unhappy with the basic skills of school leavers.

    The CBI is the UK's leading business organisation, speaking for some 240,000 businesses that together employ around a third of the private sector workforce. With offices across the UK as well as representation in Brussels, Washington, Beijing and Delhi the CBI communicates the British business voice around the world.

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  • Pearson Education announces new appointment to board of directors

    Professor Sir David Melville CBE has been appointed as chairman of the Pearson Education Ltd board of directors with immediate effect.

    A Professor of Physics, David has over 40 years experience of working across the broad span of education to bring to bear on the role. Most recently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, he has served as Chief Executive of the Further Education Funding Council and Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University. He was a member of the Tomlinson 14-19 Review, the Foundation Degree Task Force and the Foster Review of the Future of Further Education Colleges.

    David has been a primary, secondary and academy chair and vice-chair of governors, the Government Thames Gateway Skills Envoy, Chair of Lifelong Learning UK, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the Learning and Skills Council in Kent and Medway, the University Vocational Awards Council and Higher Education South East.

    Sir David replaces Martin Cross, who retired at the end of his term this year.

    Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK, said:

    “I am delighted that David has taken up the role of Chair. He has already made a very strong contribution to the business in his role as a non-executive director and is extremely well qualified to Chair the board.

    “We are all very sad to say goodbye to Martin who has done a wonderful job in the role over a number of years. We wish him well in the future.”

    Professor Sir David Melville said:

    “I am honoured to be taking over the chair of Pearson Education Ltd at a crucial time for qualifications and examinations in this country. I am committed to all forms of educational opportunity and our mission to provide high quality resources and qualifications is central to this endeavour.”

    About Professor Sir David Melville CBE

    David Melville has over 40 years experience of working in education with involvement in HE, FE and schools. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, Chief Executive of the Further Education Funding Council and Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University. Before that he was a lecturer and later professor of physics. He was a member of the Tomlinson 14-19 Review, the Foundation Degree Task Force and the Foster Review of the Future of Further Education Colleges.

    He has been a primary, secondary and academy chair/vice-chair of governors, the Government Thames Gateway Skills Envoy, Chair of Lifelong Learning UK, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the Learning and Skills Council in Kent and Medway, the University Vocational Awards Council and Higher Education South East, and a board member of the ifs School of Finance, the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, The Place and the Council for Industry and Higher Education.

    He has been on the board of Edexcel/Pearson Education Ltd since 2005, and is currently Chair of the Kent Surrey and Sussex NHS Postgraduate Deanery and a board member of the Network for Black Professionals, K College of FE and London South Bank and Manchester Metropolitan Universities and is a patron of the 157 Group, Comprehensive Future, the Disabled Sailors Association, Faversham Creek Trust, Faversham Festival and the Thames Gateway Young Chamber. He was educated at Sheffield and Columbia Universities.

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  • Our long-term commitments to help raise standards and build confidence in UK exams

    We’ve published wide-ranging recommendations in a report that sets out the part we hope to play in building confidence in Britain’s examination system.

    The report forms part of Pearson’s response to the findings of its “Leading on Standards” consultation which launched in January this year to seek the views of students, teachers, parents, higher education and employers on the future of the examinations system.

    The report offers new ways to ensure that the standards debate remains at the centre of education thinking in the UK. Pearson is making a series of commitments for action in support of this, including:

    • A five yearly, independent and fundamental Review of Educational Ambition which will ensure the British examination system is fit for purpose;
    • Enhanced and accredited training and recognition for Pearson examiners through a strategic partnership with the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors and University of Durham;
    • A new generation of A levels which set the bar higher, and encourage deeper learning; 
    • Independent validation of skills at age 18 in partnership with employers, higher education and other relevant experts.

    The report also recommends that teachers are better supported to assess student progress in their classroom rather than in the exam hall. It argues that focus on quantity of exams with students taking large numbers of GCSE’s should be replaced by a more balanced approach to ensure students are equipped for life through learning experiences which are shaped, valued and accredited by higher education and employers.

    The report will be launched this evening at Skinners Academy in North London, with representatives from higher education, employers, teachers, parents and students taking part in a panel debate on exams and education.

    Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK, said:

    “Setting educational expectations high – both for students and those of us who seek to support their learning - is fundamental to getting standards right. Our aspirations and actions need to help build a culture of ambition in British education, shifting mind sets from meeting to exceeding expectations.

    “Through these actions and others, we want to work with partners across education to help re-instil confidence in the British examination system, and ensure that the knowledge children acquire during their time at school truly endures and serves them throughout their lives.

    “We are making this series of commitments because we know we have an important role and responsibility, but we can't do it alone. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with all those with a role in British education to raise standards and ensure high-quality outcomes.

    “Too much focus on exams risks undermining the broader purpose of education. By acting on the commitments outlined in the report we believe we can help to build a system that fosters a culture which emphasises learning more, rather than simply testing more.

    “Young people want to be tested in a way that is more appropriate for the world they live in. We need to ensure the education system is dynamic and ready to respond to changing skills and needs. But it’s not enough to look ahead to a fresh start. We need to rebuild confidence in the way examinations are run, where awarding bodies can be trusted to uphold and drive the highest standards.”

    1. The Report makes eight commitments. Pearson will:

    • commit to fund a Review of Educational Ambition
    • seek to build confidence through greater transparency
    • recognise and grow the expertise of our examining workforce
    • invest to build assessment skills in the classroom
    • think beyond exams to encourage more rounded learning 
    • create a New Generation of A levels
    • exercise our influence as an awarding organisation and publisher to reinforce broad learning
    • support accountability methods that better represent the concerns of parents

    2. The full findings and details of the recommendations can be found at

    3. The consultation was launched on January 31st. Responses were sought via the online document as well as through a series of seminars held in conjunction with the think tank Reform which represented 75 organisations from across education and business.

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