What If School Exam Results Weren’t Necessary For The Jobs Market?

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The Times reports that Ernst and Young will “no longer consider an applicant’s qualifications, school or university when selecting trainees for interview.” In pursuit of a ‘level playing field’ the firm will use online tests to assess the ‘potential’ of an applicant. Only at the final interview will a candidate’s academic record be revealed. The main drive behind this move seems to be the desire to increase the diversity of its workforce and that the firm has a: “social obligation to break barriers that in part exclude people from certain backgrounds.” The online test is accessible here. PwC no longer considers A levels when selecting people to become graduate trainees and I attended a meeting where someone from recruitment in Barclays mentioned they were (thinking of?) doing something similar to E&Y.

Should schools start teaching children how to take online multiple choice ‘business’ tests and answer numerical reasoning questions or should they leave this entirely to their pupils? Will online courses be set up to feed what might be perceived as a need for preparation? If ‘certain’ types of people are prepared for these tests more than others will social diversity cease to be the likely outcome as the sharp elbows nudge certain young adults out of the way with the silver spooned progeny again finding their rightful place atop the heap?

The revolution starts here. For the last few years too many people have seen schools as places to develop 21st century skills for the workplace and firms have become lazy, counting GCSEs, A levels and Degrees as though they were workplace qualifications, but what if this role for school education is removed? What if more companies start to set their own tests to find people of natural ability and try to ensure these tests are ‘tutor proof’? What if more companies have a desire to employ people from a wide range of backgrounds, who offer a “more inclusive culture at the firm to drive the business forward and deliver better results for our clients.”? What if A levels and GCSEs slowly, painfully slowly, cease to be a  currency for the jobs market? What if education is irrevocably split from the job’s market and is placed in the ‘education for its own sake’ world, where all are realistic about the need to study because it is good for the soul rather than the raising of potentially lucrative future tax returns?

Somewhere over the rainbow…

If transferability of academic skills and knowledge from the school room to the skills and knowledge needed for the workplace is dubious and is mainly a factor of social sifting then there will be a benefit from these changes to recruitment. Even better would be  if workplaces were to offer to train people for work and help to develop their workforce over years as a social service, not as a hand-cuff to ensure they stay, but a type of ongoing training that would enable all those who wanted to/needed to move onto pastures new to do so.

In the meantime schools could be freed to teach the Arts and the Humanities, Languages, Maths and Sciences, Technology, and Physical and Spiritual education to ensure each child is engaged in the mindful pursuit of wisdom and a study in what it is to be human, and not just in the pursuit of a future career.

10 thoughts on “What If School Exam Results Weren’t Necessary For The Jobs Market?

  1. literacyadviser

    Great post Martin. You just beat me to it as I was actually drafting something similar earlier today. I have been arguing this point for years, but I would go further than that. I would place the onus for entry to university and college courses on the Higher and Further Education Institutions themselves, having them set their own entrance examinations, thereby increasing the likelihood of them accepting the right candidates and freeing schools to focus on learning via a much broader curriculum.

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    1. David Fisher

      Agree in principle but that actually happens in the Czech Republic where I live – the downside is enormous pressure on students trying to prepare for multiple university tests while still finishing school.

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  2. Andrew Manson (@AndrewManson1)

    Really interesting piece. I’ve looked through EY application process a little and am intrigued. At first glance I admire EY for removing qualification as a barrier getting a job within their organisation and am curious about strengths as an alternate way in to a job. I also like to the optimism expressed here; how liberating this could be for schools as ‘enlightened’ employers help free schools from the shackles of assessment as the be-all-and-end-all in education.

    However, I do have concerns about the creation of mono-cultures; organisations comprised of individuals that have been profiled for notionally desirable behaviours. While this approach might just allow for greater socio-economic diversity, do we want our large financial / business organisations to be formed of people who are behaviourally selected for their ability to ‘fit in’? My issue is whether this makes for healthy organisations, and consequently a healthy society? Is it replacing one inadequate assessment system with another? Psychometric tests have been around for a while now, and have become important recruitment tools for many large private and public bodies – but are they good for us? Perhaps the answer already lies in the post crash banking sector. Have these become healthier environments that allow for more questioning voices within their organisations to be heard? Does diversity of background also translate to diversity of opinion and behaviour? Whose values do we conform to now, and what specific parameters within the profiling processes have changed? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but still wonder whether conformity within companies and institutions will forever make them a little impervious to change, silently, and dutifully protecting and replicating the status quo. Until we know the answer to this I guess we will have to give it a go. Some of it might be to the good.

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    1. Leah K Stewart

      Yes please. I’ll sign up for this future Martin. Truth is though; as soon as something is standardized on a broad enough scale, people will start to find and profit from teaching the short-cuts.

      Andrew, on your great point about behaviours/personality/strength profiling and the dangers of using it to concentrate the same kinds of people; there’s a fairly new wave of thinking on this which is explicit about how different profiles work with each other and how they are required together to grow any business to any real size. It’s very celebratory of people’s natural strengths and the good that can come about when people stop trying to be like each other and instead collaborate cleverly with others who have complimentary natural strengths.

      What do people here think of this: there is ‘work’ which comes from ourselves and there is ‘job’ which is where we do someone else’s work, because their work has expanded beyond them. When I turned my back on a sponsored MSc and industry placements I found a local job in sales. The training was incredible. Such a high standard and highly applicable, because that’s what people do when their work has expanded beyond them, they support those coming in to do it by training them to do the job. This is natural. I think our school system forgets that this is natural. It also doesn’t acknowledge that we all have work to do that’s ours; our way of helping the people we love- as a business, charity, or informally. That’s why, when the economy did it’s wobbles the last decade, people hypnotised into committing to a job for financial security have woken up and are looking for meaning in their jobs; they are searching for their work. As an experiment I’ve started a virtual after-school club for teens creating their own work, and leverage it, while still at school, so when school’s done my teens have a real choice between what our system offers and what they have created, or an aware mixture of the two.

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  3. teachwell

    Reading, writing and maths have been excluded because…. I am primary – this does matter as this is the major stumbling block to all those other subjects for poorer children in the first place.

    I would argue that we don’t teach to a particular future career anyway. Conflating teaching to the test with teaching for a career, but in terms of motivation it is definitely used.

    I am skeptical – like all tests it can be practiced for and those that have the most resources can get tutors, etc. Therefore it could have the opposite effect – a bit like the 11+.

    Also they are not doing away with looking at results per se just not a barrier to applying so I await what actually happens. It could be middle and upper class candidates with lower grades getting in at the expense of higher performing ones from working class backgrounds…. Unintended consequences like this happen all the time.

    Also I think it would give too many progressive teachers the excuse they need to abandon any kind of formal teaching of the basics, which would just be a disaster for poorer children (although I supposed it already is).

    How soon before private schools/grammar schools add this to their curriculum?

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  4. literacyadviser

    Reblogged this on Bill Boyd – The Literacy Adviser and commented:
    It’s that time of year again. Across Scotland this week, 16-18 year-olds are finding out how they performed in their National Qualifications, something which will determine their futures to a great extent, though not always in the way that we – or they – imagine it will.
    These qualifications have always been seen as the hard currency for entry to Higher education and a successful career, but we all know it doesn’t always work out that way, so perhaps it is time to re-consider what we think schools are for, and to look again at whether learning, schooling and the examination system, while having many features in common, are really quite different animals. In this typically insightful and thought-provoking blogpost, Martin Robinson considers the implications of lessening the importance of formal qualifications in career recruitment, and wonders whether both schools and the ‘world of work’ might benefit from the changes.

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  5. Gareth Lewis - THIS Education

    Interestingly that for some Apprenticeships that I have recently come across, the organisations are not interested in GCSE English and Maths grades. I have been further told, purely anecdotaly, that the GCSE does not demonstrate the style of literacy and numeracy skills that are needed in the workplace. Gives further food for thought on what we are equipping young people for in schools? Thanks for the blog. 🙂

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  6. botzarelli

    EY might be entirely sincere in saying that moving to aptitude testing is being done to prevent social exclusion. However, there is another way of looking at this, as prompted by a friend who is a barrister and in charge of recruiting trainees for his Chambers. The problem he has faced is that exam grades no longer provide any reasonable reflection of the differences between candidates. Almost all of them have straight As and almost all of them have at least a 2:1. So, looking at exam grades is pretty useless unless you deliberately want to make social judgments on the basis of subject choices and institution. They have therefore also gone to use practical tests when recruiting but are aware that tests which focus on the actual skills needed to be a barrister are themselves likely to be somewhat socially exclusive because preparation for them relies on knowing what barristers do and how they do it, which will come from having done work experience and having the ability to understand what was important in what was being observed.

    It might be a happy coincidence that grade and qualification inflation has forced large and small employers to look more closely at aptitudes and abilities. However, it would, I think, be a mistake to extrapolate from that to say that grades and subjects don’t matter. If a subject’s study does not contribute adequately to developing the skills for a particular career, CV blindness won’t help (eg another friend is a surgeon who runs an access scheme for Medicine courses – there is little that can be done to help someone whose school advised them that it would be a good idea to do A level Art instead of Chemistry because it would help with anatomy other than to tell them to stay an extra year in college and do Chemistry). Also, if students did stop worrying about their grades or subjects, that would itself reduce grade inflation so as to start to make grades matter again. I suspect that pretty much regardless of what their application material says, EY will find few accountancy trainees who’ll get through the process if they gaily abandoned Maths after scraping a C.

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  7. Chester Draws

    Even better would be if workplaces were to offer to train people for work and help to develop their workforce over years as a social service, not as a hand-cuff to ensure they stay, but a type of ongoing training that would enable all those who wanted to/needed to move onto pastures new to do so.

    The moment business stops being about business and becomes about social services is the day we fall once more into the trap that the Communists did. It sucked then, and it will suck again every time we try it, because they are bad at social services and would become bad at business as well. You don’t need to be a right winger to realise that making economic organisations uneconomic is a very poor idea. It’s the same reasoning in reverse that makes you so angry about universities driven by business ideas and concepts!

    Businesses don’t in general recruit off grades because they want people with the best skills anyway. It’s about finding people who are clever, hard working and fit the pattern for the business in general. (They pretty much always train them up anyway if they are getting them straight from school or university.)

    So people with top grade Maths degrees find work easily, but people with top grades in history don’t — because they show a person with a sharp mind, ready to put business before pleasure. Yes, the historian is quite likely a more rounded person, but that won’t help a City firm make money more efficiently. Going down the “more rounded employee” route seems to be like a good way for a profitable firm to turn into an unprofitable one, and then everyone loses their job. Nothing stops the City employee from watching dance, or studying a language in their own time, or whatever — it’s merely irrelevant to the criteria on which they should employ.

    What if education is irrevocably split from the job’s market and is placed in the ‘education for its own sake’ world, where all are realistic about the need to study because it is good for the soul rather than the raising of potentially lucrative future tax returns?

    It already is. I took a degree largely based on what I wanted to do, not what paid the best. So do lots of people — or the humanities sections of universities would be empty. People also do subjects at school that they know full well have no use to an employer. (And then there is all the education people do quite outside the educational establishments.)

    Your argument seems to amount to wanting those that have an education that isn’t based on later pay to get the same opportunities as those that do take a more hard-nosed approach. That’s never going to be how the world works.
    Your argument seems to come down to the fact that because something is good, then others should have to pay for it too. The world isn’t like that.

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