If exams are getting harder why are so many English graduates illiterate?

Based on the majority of CVs sent to me by tutoring job applicants in recent years, you would think that most of the UK is illiterate.

Bear in mind, these potential private tutors are graduates, and if they have studied the job criteria carefully, they’ll often be graduates from the nation’s most prestigious universities, have been privately educated, and have teaching experience.

The Labour party and Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt are attempting to curry favour with parents by declaring that they will halt the advance of the Conservative education policy, which includes making exams more difficult.

This would be a very bad move. Exams need to get tougher, not easier. We’re already seeing a very real and very sharp decline in the academic ability of our nation’s school children, and our graduates becoming less able to compete in the international job market.

I’ve had English language graduates apply for a job with us who have been unable to determine the difference between ‘to and ‘too’ and ‘your’ and ‘you’re’.  Or ‘their’, there, and ‘they’re’.  How can you pass an English language exam if you’re unable to spell, use grammar correctly, or construct an argument?

Should universities be more rigorous in accepting only students that meet higher standards of literacy? But how important is the ability to spell to an engineer, or a subordinate clause to a mathematician? I was given the rare honour of being labelled at university ‘an engineer who could write’ – proving that even in those days of grammar schooling and rigorous teaching of the three ‘R’s, it was accepted that some skills are not deemed essential to the long term success in a chosen career.

Over the years I’ve become increasingly dismayed at the level of graduates our universities turn out. I think many schools fail to teach pupils the essentials – correct grammar, spelling, arithmetic, and other building blocks for life-long learning and application.

Exams shouldn’t allow children to dodge these basic skills – they should be enforcing them from an early age, so that, by the time our pupils arrive at university, knowing how to use an apostrophe correctly is second nature.

Everyone, from motor mechanics to scientists to private tutors, need to make a good impression on other people throughout their lives. Business plans, job applications, letters of complaint, and client reports are sure to have a bigger impact on the reader if written correctly, compellingly, and thoughtfully.

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