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Are schools 'exam factories'?

Business leaders from the CBI say some UK schools have become "exam factories" and are calling for children to be given a broader education.

It says there is too much focus on exams at 16 and that should be switched to 18, with more emphasis on skills people need for life and work. It calls for schools inspectors and league tables to look beyond exam results.

The Confederation of British Industry, the employers' organisation, made the recommendations in a report released at the start of its annual conference. Its director general John Cridland said: "In some cases secondary schools have become an exam factory. Qualifications are important, but we also need people who have self-discipline and serve customers well. As well as academic rigour, we need schools to produce rounded and grounded young people who have the skills and behaviours that businesses want."

The business leaders say their report is for the UK as a whole, but power over education is devolved from Westminster and policies and exams taken differ. Some of their recommendations relate most closely to schools in England, where Education Secretary Michael Gove is overhauling the school system, including exams.

But he has mainly focussed on toughening GCSEs, encouraging pupils to study rigorous subjects, and calling for a higher percentage of pupils to score the benchmark five good GCSEs, rather than downplaying their importance.

The report backs England's academy programme - where schools are encouraged to take on more independence - but is also critical. It attacks what it calls the "cult of the average", saying 40% of young people are underachieving while the top 10% are not being stretched enough.

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