Response to the CBI skills survey showing importance of soft skills

CBI Education and Skills Survey published today reinforces what business leaders have been telling us for some time: that more needs to be done in schools to equip pupils with the skills and attributes they need for the world of work.

The headlines from the survey (which spoke to firms employing over 1 million people between them) are quite clear: according to the report, the most important factors employers weigh up when recruiting school leavers are attitudes (85%) and aptitudes (58%), which rank well ahead of formal qualifications. Businesses also believe that developing an awareness of working life should be a priority for schools too, particularly at secondary level. The report is clear that gaps in such skills and awareness are holding school-leavers back and could be damaging for the economy.

The evidence is that these skills and attitudes can be developed in schools: Nobel-Prize-winning economist James Heckman has conclusively demonstrated that these skills are not innate and that they can be taught while an analysis of over 200 social and emotional skills programmesrun in schools, predominantly delivered through PSHE education, demonstrated improved attitudes and behaviour in pupils and an 11% improvement in academic achievement. The Education Endowment Foundation now recommendssuch programmes as a way to improve literacy and numeracy amongst disadvantaged pupils.

These skills have benefits well beyond the classroom. A 2011 study showed that such skills are more important in determining life chances at age 30 than academic qualifications, and one survey suggests that the economic prize for improving ‘soft’ skills has been placed at over £100bn by one survey.

PSHE education has the potential to be a core component of the curriculum where pupils should develop these skills and learn about the world of work but according to Ofsted, PSHE provision is substandard in over 40% of schools. In response, the Commons Education Committee statutory status for PSHE to ensure that it is taught in line with best practice by trained teachers. This approach is supported by 85% of business leaders according to a 2014 poll. The Government is due to respond to the Committee’s recommendations imminently.


PSHE Association Chief Executive Joe Hayman said:

“If we care about children and young people’s life chances, then we should care about their potential to make a living. Business leaders are clearly saying that the school system needs to adjust: not that academic qualifications are unimportant, far from it, but that skills and attributes are critical too.”

“The PSHE Education Expert Group called in 2014 for a partnership between the education and business community to develop and accredit these skills and for statutory status for PSHE education. This would mean that all pupils get high-quality lessons focussed on skill development and have something to show to employers at the end of that learning. These calls are backed by an overwhelming majority of business leaders.  We hope the Government listens.”


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