Blog: IGCSE and 'soft skills' - Simon Lebus

Blog: League tables and 'soft skills' - Simon Lebus

Disappointing news that the Secretary of State has decided IGCSEs should be permanently excluded from the league tables. The news comes as Cambridge International Examinations IGCSE entries from the UK have increased yet again - we believe that 25% of the English language cohort are now taking the qualification. The department's decision to clamp down was partly prompted by concern that these numbers would increase further still as schools decided to migrate to IGCSE as an insurance policy while the full effects of the new GCSE 1-9 worked their way through system. As the time at which there is large scale change in public exams is always the time of greatest risk, this left Ofqual concerned that the already complicated task of carrying standards forward from old to new GCSE would be made more difficult still because too many schools would have switched for the cohort to be properly representative. Unfortunately, in practice, we now find ourselves reverting to the previous unjust and undesirable state of affairs in which access to choice in qualifications is permitted only to schools in the private sector. As Michael O'Sullivan of Cambridge International Examinations summed up perfectly in his previous statement - you have to ask yourself what league tables are actually for?

Development Economics published a report last week about the role of skills in the modern workplace. It was backed by Barclays, McDonald's and CBI and claims that skills such as communication, initiative, interacting with customers and team working are all essential underpinnings of the modern economy. So far, so blindingly obvious and certainly not the first report to make such claims. Interestingly, however, it goes on to try to quantify the impact and claims that the cost of the total contribution of soft skills to the economy is in the region of £88billion. Interestingly this includes breakdowns by both region and industrial sector, concluding disconcertingly that soft skills are virtually valueless in agriculture, forestry and fisheries (0.7%) and not much use in mining, quarrying and utilities (2.9%) and little use either in arts, entertainment and recreation (2.9%) This is a judgement that those of us who have had to deal with telephone utilities contact centres may recognise, but peculiar within the entertainment sector where you'd expect practitioners to possess these skills in quite a large measure. As ever with this sort of report, the effort to precisely quantify the value of intangibles can lead to absurdities that undermine what is otherwise an important and sensible point.

Simon Lebus
Group Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment

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