The CBI and the Voice of the Journalists

In the Guardian this week there was an extremely interesting article that reported on the CBI director general’s speech about his and the business world’s concern about education.

It was strong stuff!

Teaching to tests and exams is not providing industry with the type of employees they need. More work needs to be done on ‘skilling’ young people to be creative, innovative, communicative and able to work independently.

A Department for Education spokesman apparently said, “Our reforms of GCSEs will break the constant treadmill of exams and retakes throughout students’ GCSE courses – school shouldn’t be a dreary trudge from one test to the next. We want students to achieve a real, lasting understanding and love of a subject.”

What the Director General, John Cridland, was saying was nothing new to those who have known for too long how the current education system is failing our children and also failing our society by not enabling them to be employable.

Our most recent blog summarises our views on this speech and a plea to consider the correct language. “Soft skills” is an appalling phrase. There is nothing “soft” about empathy or developing one’s personal intelligence. There is nothing soft about learning to be thoughtful and generous and caring and valuing oneself and others. These are hard things to “learn” in life and come from a range of experiences and opportunities that are currently not available in many schools for far too many children. They are neither “soft” nor “skills”.

What we are actually talking about here is developing a set of multiple intelligences that synergise to create/develop/nurture a fully actualised human being, capable of using their intellect, of actively using their intuition and their instincts, of knowing their strengths and recognising what their current weaknesses are – and what to do about them.

If we stop young people from developing all of their intelligences and increasingly turn education into a  process of exam-passing, then according to John Cridland we stop them becoming employable.

This is not the first time that the CBI has said this. Under the previous government they said exactly the same thing and they were ignored. Partly as an outcome of this, we have a rising level of unemployment among 16-24 year olds, who coincidentally were the first group of children to be taught under centrally-directed and heavily micromanaged literacy and numeracy strategies.

It makes you think.

Meanwhile, back in MediaLand, we have another interesting situation. If you have time, read these four reports on the CBI’s conference. If you are working in a school, let your students consider the variation between them as an example of media slant and bias – for it’s a wonder as to whether they are all reporting on the same speech.

Whilst the Guardian and the Huffington Post, in our opinion, rightly focus on our failure to nurture every type of intelligence in our schools, the Telegraph and the Mail concentrate on just one intelligence – intellect – as though this is an isolated intelligence unaffected by the lack of attention given to developing the personal, social and spiritual intelligences.

These two newspapers focus on the problems with the levels of literacy and numeracy in school leavers, and yes, this is a problem. But they say nothing about how we fail to motivate so many young people, why they are turned off the curriculum they are offered, and what we can do to develop every child’s individual ability, be it academic, creative or more vocationally focused. There’s widespread failure to enjoy or to really engage with personalised learning, thanks to teaching to tests and exams. That is what Mr Cridland expressed concern about to the CBI conference, and none of this was reported in these newspapers.

At 3Di, we have an extensive knowledge of how children learn to read and write, and not once in our careers have we seen a child succeed properly in these skills if their motivation and interest levels are lacking. You have to engage pupils, knowing who they are – each and every one of them, and how they tick. You have to energise them, guide them to their literacy “element” as Sir Ken Robinson would say, empower them through your energy and enthusiasm as a teacher. Even Mr. Gove has understood that teachers should be freed from the constraints of an overprescribed curriculum – as long as they teach Dryden of course.

Perhaps these two newspapers are homing in on these skills because they think that is what their readers want to read; an indictment on the teaching profession, without looking at any additional reasons why children may not become literate as quickly as they ought, like family, housing, inequality, health issues, boredom etc. However, it isn’t that simple, and parents are not that simple either.

As we’ve said before, ask any parent what they want for their child and for nine out of ten, the first response will be, “we want them to be happy”. The second response will be that they want them to be successful and secure in the future, whatever they choose to do. How are young people going to be either of these things if they are not provided with the opportunities that John Cridland quite rightly sees as a priority? How are parents going to see that their values and aspirations for their children are the same as businesses and progressive educationalists if journalists in popular papers don’t report the real crux of an exceedingly important message?

This is not the dreaded “progressive” educationalists talking, as Mr Gove calls us in such a derogatory tone. This is the voice of the business big boys saying, unlike Mr Gove, that the only way that education and ultimately business can progress is to do something about these often discarded and undervalued intelligences.

Surely this is something that warrants a comment in the press when reporting on such a speech?

We suspect that many readers of these newspapers are far more in tune with John Cridland’s comments than with the narrow view that all the world’s ills will be solved with each and every pupil gaining an A star in maths and English.

Perhaps the Mail and the Telegraph should look again at this speech and reconsider their focus in the light of what John Cridland actually said.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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