John Lewis boss says school leavers lack even basic literacy and numeracy

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Young people starting work at John Lewis stores lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, the boss of the department store chain has said.
Dame Sharon White's comments were reported in the Times after she spoke to a commission set up by the newspaper to look at the UK education system in the light of the Covid crisis.
She said the firm had to provide basic catch-up classes to some staff.
Some lacked skills beyond the level of a 10 year-old, Dame Sharon said.
"To have done 10 years, 11, 12 years of education, and not having, in many cases, functional literacy, certainly, pretty typically not having functional numeracy beyond the age of, I'd say, 10, 11, means that they may then have fabulous people skills and fabulous skills in terms of operating in a team but that's almost outwith the education system," Dame Sharon told the Commission.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57499286


Ugh, I hate this so much. I hated learning about Shakespearean English and speculating about what the author might have been thinking in Of Mice and Men, and I know plenty of people hated doing simultaneous equations and calculating angles on a parallelogram. But then you see headlines like this and you know the government is gonna be like 'well, clearly we don't put enough time into maths, lets scrap even more subjects and put even more time into the core subjects'.

It seems to me that, when it comes to our lower achievers, we are just teaching them the wrong thing? Even people not able to get above a C/5 at GCSE should be able to do the level of maths that John ****ing Lewis requires. But instead we have them doing algebra?

Should our more basic tiers of maths and English be... well just that: more basic? Shouldn't we focus on getting our lower achievers able to at least function in our modern society, and leave the abstract stuff to people who can get a B/6 and above?
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Wired_1800
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Bumping this for you
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Theloniouss
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(Original post by nexttime)
Should our more basic tiers of maths and English be... well just that: more basic? Shouldn't we focus on getting our lower achievers able to at least function in our modern society, and leave the abstract stuff to people who can get a B/6 and above?
This is absolutely correct, but I'd say it goes further than that. The sheer number of people who leave school unable to spell and use basic grammar (at all levels) has and will always shock me. The introduction of a mandatory "basic literacy and numeracy" GCSE-level qualification would be very useful.

I would personally contend that almost no GCSE student actually understands the "abstract stuff" they pretend to. Exam boards are designed so that students can just learn sample answers and regurgitate them in exams, allowing the government to pretend that a 15-year-old "gets" Shakespeare or Steinbeck (not that we do US authors anymore) when they actually don't.
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Muttley79
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(Original post by nexttime)
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57499286


Ugh, I hate this so much. I hated learning about Shakespearean English and speculating about what the author might have been thinking in Of Mice and Men, and I know plenty of people hated doing simultaneous equations and calculating angles on a parallelogram. But then you see headlines like this and you know the government is gonna be like 'well, clearly we don't put enough time into maths, lets scrap even more subjects and put even more time into the core subjects'.

It seems to me that, when it comes to our lower achievers, we are just teaching them the wrong thing? Even people not able to get above a C/5 at GCSE should be able to do the level of maths that John ****ing Lewis requires. But instead we have them doing algebra?

Should our more basic tiers of maths and English be... well just that: more basic? Shouldn't we focus on getting our lower achievers able to at least function in our modern society, and leave the abstract stuff to people who can get a B/6 and above?
Hardly a valid sample is it?

There is little algebra in Foundation Maths - it's predominantly number ... https://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/math...-of-assessment
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nulli tertius
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We have an education system that allows (indeed perhaps encourages) anyone who shows even the most modest interest in education to remain in education until 18 or 21 and then we wonder why those who opt out of education at 16 lack academic skills.

John Lewis is recruiting at 16 the people it wouldn’t have touched with a barge pole in a previous generation.
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Daisychains_93
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We have a poor education system for under 16s.. GCSE's aren't worth anything. Employers expect decent levels of maths and English hence asking for GCSE in maths and English. All the others are for is for higher education/training.
Many employers are starting to prefer functional skills as this presents a more realistic us of literacy and numeracy.

However, this is an insult to those who have worked hard at GCSE'S and sad this lady has generalized so much. Its about time our education system actually served a purpose rather than preparing young people for an unrealistic future and just university
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Wired_1800
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(Original post by Daisychains_93)
We have a poor education system for under 16s.. GCSE's aren't worth anything. Employers expect decent levels of maths and English hence asking for GCSE in maths and English. All the others are for is for higher education/training.
Many employers are starting to prefer functional skills as this presents a more realistic us of literacy and numeracy.

However, this is an insult to those who have worked hard at GCSE'S and sad this lady has generalized so much. Its about time our education system actually served a purpose rather than preparing young people for an unrealistic future and just university
I don't think she generalised but spoke about her own employees.
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(Original post by Wired_1800)
I don't think she generalised but spoke about her own employees.
Maine them hearing that though, pretty disheartening.
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(Original post by Oceanwater)
Maine them hearing that though, pretty disheartening.
It is disheartening but a damning indictment of the education system that has failed some young people.
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(Original post by nexttime)
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57499286


Ugh, I hate this so much. I hated learning about Shakespearean English and speculating about what the author might have been thinking in Of Mice and Men, and I know plenty of people hated doing simultaneous equations and calculating angles on a parallelogram. But then you see headlines like this and you know the government is gonna be like 'well, clearly we don't put enough time into maths, lets scrap even more subjects and put even more time into the core subjects'.

It seems to me that, when it comes to our lower achievers, we are just teaching them the wrong thing? Even people not able to get above a C/5 at GCSE should be able to do the level of maths that John ****ing Lewis requires. But instead we have them doing algebra?

Should our more basic tiers of maths and English be... well just that: more basic? Shouldn't we focus on getting our lower achievers able to at least function in our modern society, and leave the abstract stuff to people who can get a B/6 and above?
Couldn't agree more! For the less academically able kids, or even those from deprived backgrounds for whom study is difficult, we should probably just be teaching a standard life skills package. Basic maths, English and computing and then throw in some basic personal finance, domestic and society skills. No exams at the end. Just give them a certificate of completion/diploma like these self study distance learning organisations like OpenLearn do.

It would at least give those who complete the diploma some level of success and set them up to at least get by in society, especially if they don't continue with education. If the kids want to continue with their studies then the diplomas would allow them access to apprenticeships and further education courses, which in turn could lead to higher education if the student is able enough. Further education and higher education are both very flexible today whereas general school education seems stuck in a rigid system better suited to the 19th century.
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(Original post by Theloniouss)
This is absolutely correct, but I'd say it goes further than that. The sheer number of people who leave school unable to spell and use basic grammar (at all levels) has and will always shock me. The introduction of a mandatory "basic literacy and numeracy" GCSE-level qualification would be very useful.
If it was basic literacy and numeracy surely it wouldn't be GCSE level?

I know the SQA/Scot government has split the former Standard Grades into 5 National Grades. With National 5 being equivalent to the former Standard Grade Credit and current GCSE so maybe England should do the same? So that if someone isn't good enough to do GCSE yet, they can do an easier qualification that makes sure they can still do basic literacy and numeracy.
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(Original post by Captain Swan)
If it was basic literacy and numeracy surely it wouldn't be GCSE level?

I know the SQA/Scot government has split the former Standard Grades into 5 National Grades. With National 5 being equivalent to the former Standard Grade Credit and current GCSE so maybe England should do the same? So that if someone isn't good enough to do GCSE yet, they can do an easier qualification that makes sure they can still do basic literacy and numeracy.
It would be, yes. Because GCSE students don't know basic literacy. My whole point is that even the highest achieving students are often piss-poor at basic spelling and grammar, so they need to be taught the basics.
Last edited by Theloniouss; 1 month ago
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(Original post by Theloniouss)
This is absolutely correct, but I'd say it goes further than that. The sheer number of people who leave school unable to spell and use basic grammar (at all levels) has and will always shock me. The introduction of a mandatory "basic literacy and numeracy" GCSE-level qualification would be very useful.

I would personally contend that almost no GCSE student actually understands the "abstract stuff" they pretend to. Exam boards are designed so that students can just learn sample answers and regurgitate them in exams, allowing the government to pretend that a 15-year-old "gets" Shakespeare or Steinbeck (not that we do US authors anymore) when they actually don't.
It still frustrates me that when it comes to the English language I was not taught grammar...at all. My understanding of grammar (terms and rules) comes from learning FOREIGN languages. I kid you not, I had no clue what 'past participles' and different tense types past "past present future" were until I had to learn French, I had no idea what it meant to conjugate a verb yet I was doing it everyday. Thankfully for me I was an avid reader and was able to use grammar intuitively, without really knowing what I was doing, but knowing it 'felt right' based on what I had seen before. I've never, for example, been explicitly taught what brackets are used for, but was commended for using them correctly at 7. I still struggle with semi colons.
I think the problem is, it was breezed over in primary school, and by secondary school they assume you were taught grammar because by that age it looks like you know it, but it's just instinctive and you don't know the actual rules and terms behind it.
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(Original post by Daisychains_93)
We have a poor education system for under 16s.. GCSE's aren't worth anything. Employers expect decent levels of maths and English hence asking for GCSE in maths and English. All the others are for is for higher education/training.
Many employers are starting to prefer functional skills as this presents a more realistic us of literacy and numeracy.

However, this is an insult to those who have worked hard at GCSE'S and sad this lady has generalized so much. Its about time our education system actually served a purpose rather than preparing young people for an unrealistic future and just university
I don't work in recruiting but based on my experience at school, if I was hiring someone I would look for a basic ability in maths (know how to add, subtract divide etc. only what is necessary for the role), written English and reading comprehension but again only what is needed for the role, A high grade in a GCSE or BTEC subject with a large coursework component (because an 8/9 in GCSE art means you cried over your coursework. You are a hard worker, its a better reflection of that than a high exam grade, which is just a measure of how good you are at taking exams.), COMPUTER LITERACY- I expect a want for this will grow in coming years. I'm not just talking 'can you use word and excel', I'm looking for someone that would be able to figure their way around new and unfamiliar software because they have a background understanding of how programmes tend to work.
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(Original post by lol.yolo)
It still frustrates me that when it comes to the English language I was not taught grammar...at all. My understanding of grammar (terms and rules) comes from learning FOREIGN languages. I kid you not, I had no clue what 'past participles' and different tense types past "past present future" were until I had to learn French, I had no idea what it meant to conjugate a verb yet I was doing it everyday. Thankfully for me I was an avid reader and was able to use grammar intuitively, without really knowing what I was doing, but knowing it 'felt right' based on what I had seen before. I've never, for example, been explicitly taught what brackets are used for, but was commended for using them correctly at 7. I still struggle with semi colons.
I think the problem is, it was breezed over in primary school, and by secondary school they assume you were taught grammar because by that age it looks like you know it, but it's just instinctive and you don't know the actual rules and terms behind it.
Yeah. You get taught vague, basic (often incorrect) grammar in primary and then never again.
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(Original post by Captain Swan)
If it was basic literacy and numeracy surely it wouldn't be GCSE level?

I know the SQA/Scot government has split the former Standard Grades into 5 National Grades. With National 5 being equivalent to the former Standard Grade Credit and current GCSE so maybe England should do the same? So that if someone isn't good enough to do GCSE yet, they can do an easier qualification that makes sure they can still do basic literacy and numeracy.
What you are suggesting sounds a bit like the old O level/CSE system. Problem with CSEs was that unless you got the top grade, they were pretty much considered worthless in the job market, which is why the government scrapped the whole system and introduced GCSEs. The old secondary modern schools didn’t normally enter their pupils for O levels. My grammar school sometimes took kids with 8 CSE grade 1s into our sixth form to allow them to do A levels.
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bet the boomers blame the kids for 'not working hard'
not the education system
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(Original post by Theloniouss)
It would be, yes. Because GCSE students don't know basic literacy. My whole point is that even the highest achieving students are often piss-poor at basic spelling and grammar, so they need to be taught the basics.
I'm not as familiar with GCSEs as I was educated in Scotland but a quick Google search tells me this is inaccurate as you aren't given marks if you have poor spelling, punctuation and grammar in certain subjects from AQA at least. https://www.aqa.org.uk/exams-adminis...-grammar-marks and https://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/engl...-of-assessment
These appear to contradict your claim that even the highest achievers in GCSE or at least GCSE English have piss poor spelling and grammar. They are marked on it with the AQA so you cannot get top marks without good spelling and grammar.

If their English score was low but every other subject high you might have a point especially if they were subjects that didn't require writing.

But yes, having helped train some people to cash up, I do believe basic number sense is lacking and we jump to "normal Maths" i.e. adding/subtracting using the vertical method and not the number line or other methods too soon.
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(Original post by Captain Swan)
I'm not as familiar with GCSEs as I was educated in Scotland but a quick Google search tells me this is inaccurate as you aren't given marks if you have poor spelling, punctuation and grammar in certain subjects from AQA at least. https://www.aqa.org.uk/exams-adminis...-grammar-marks and https://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/engl...-of-assessment
These appear to contradict your claim that even the highest achievers in GCSE or at least GCSE English have piss poor spelling and grammar. They are marked on it with the AQA so you cannot get top marks without good spelling and grammar.

If their English score was low but every other subject high you might have a point especially if they were subjects that didn't require writing.

But yes, having helped train some people to cash up, I do believe basic number sense is lacking and we jump to "normal Maths" i.e. adding/subtracting using the vertical method and not the number line or other methods too soon.
If memory serves, SPaG was about 8 marks total (4 marks each on the two longest essays) out of 160, with 130 marks giving you a grade 9. Because it was so few marks and getting all 4 required no mistakes (for example failing to capitalise the start of a sentence or a proper noun), there were only really 6 marks in it because getting either 0 or 4 was almost impossible.

You could very comfortably get top grades with terrible SPaG, and many students did.
Last edited by Theloniouss; 1 month ago
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(Original post by Nitebot)
What you are suggesting sounds a bit like the old O level/CSE system. Problem with CSEs was that unless you got the top grade, they were pretty much considered worthless in the job market, which is why the government scrapped the whole system and introduced GCSEs. The old secondary modern schools didn’t normally enter their pupils for O levels. My grammar school sometimes took kids with 8 CSE grade 1s into our sixth form to allow them to do A levels.
I don't think so. The system you describe is similar to our problem with the old Standard Grades with some state schools only putting their students in for General meaning they could only achieve a 3. The nationals are designed to be a stepping stone, Most students in fourth year are put in for National 4 or 5. I think it allows employers a better chance to see where a person is in their development.
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