Today’s school leavers less ready for work than in 1851

School leavers in 1851 were better prepared for the job market than they are today, according to research by the UK’s leading online learning provider, learndirect. Whilst Victorian schoolchildren took classes to match the top jobs at the time, today’s secondary school children are not given lessons to prepare them for the most common industries.

In the light of the secondary curriculum review, which frees schools up to create their own curriculum, learndirect has delved deep into the last 160 years of English and Welsh industry and school curriculum trends.  The research reveals what’s gone in and what’s been phased out and how this relates to work place requirements at the time.

1851: If the shoe fits

Learners today may be grateful some subjects have changed since 1851, as Victorian children were taught how to do housework, prepare breakfast, agriculture, knitting and shoemaking. Whilst these subjects would seem very out of place in today’s classrooms, the top five post-industrial revolution occupations included agriculture (1.64m), domestic services (1.04m), textiles (808k), labouring (375k) and boot/shoemaking (271k).

2011: Digerati/future technologists

Fast forward 160 years and the workplace has changed dramatically. More than 4m of us are working in the wholesale and retail trade, 3.3m are health/social workers and 2.6m prepare tomorrow’s workforce as educators. For the first time, professional, scientific and technical activities (1.7m) are top ten occupations, demonstrating the impact of technology and the rise of the professional services industry in the UK.  Despite still technically in recession in 2011, manufacturing and construction still feature in the top five occupation groups.

Whilst changes to the curriculum since 1851 partially reflect the shifting skillsets required by employers, there are still clear legacies of older, irrelevant subjects and gaps around core competencies now essential to fuelling today’s fast paced workplace.

Dereth Wood, Director of Learning, Policy and Strategy, learndirect explains: “In today’s competitive and pressurised business world, employers are crying out for problem solving skills and people who can analyse information and make decisions. More time needs to be spent on learning these crucial workplace skills which will enable people to access the top jobs of tomorrow.”

Dereth Wood continues: “With the rise of academies and free schools which can set their own curriculums there are now more opportunities to ensure young people are leaving schools with the skills employers are looking for.”

To ensure school leavers gain the right skills needed for the workplace, learndirect has made five key recommendations for change as part of its ‘Ability x Skills + (Knowledge) = the right formula for change?report to improve the curriculum and re-fuel the economy with the skills it needs to grow in the future:

  1. Split the maths curriculum in England – Two separate but linked maths qualifications should be offered at 14-16, including a full and comprehensive maths GCSE for those who want to progress in the discipline and a second, more practical, maths qualification.
  2. Offer Functional Skills as an ‘equal’ alternative to GCSE for young people who continue to study maths and English post 16.  Where appropriate young people who do not achieve a GCSE grade C or better should have the option to study Functional Skills as a standalone qualification.
  3. Greater focus on vocational pathways.  For those young people who want to pursue a vocational career, having an awareness and understanding at an early age of the priority and emerging sectors in a local area is key and education provision must reflect this local and often changing demand.
  4. Work experience matters: Every young person should have the opportunity to undertake a period of work experience during their compulsory education.
  5.  Greater use of technology in teaching and learning:  Technology has a key role to play in increasing demand for numeracy (and literacy )  and developing self motivated, confident learners – with the potential to enhance the delivery of teaching and learning in schools.