Food and drink industry leaders worry about exam results

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Young people Engineering Sheffield hallam university

Bad form: the government should to more to help students achieve good grades in critical subjects such as the sciences English, and maths, said manufacturers' organisation EEF
Bad form: the government should to more to help students achieve good grades in critical subjects such as the sciences English, and maths, said manufacturers' organisation EEF
Food and drink manufacturers have joined other business leaders in voicing concern about the recent falling grades in GCSE results.

For the second year in a row, the proportion of GCSEs awarded top grades fell, after years of steady improvements. More than a quarter of exam entries (26.3%) received A or A* grades, compared with 26.6% last year.

Angela Coleshill, director of employment and skills at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said the drop in students’ attainment in key subjects was concerning and more needed to be done to improve the quality of the teaching of key skills in the UK.

​As the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, employing around 400,000 people at various entry points, we recognise that quality skills provision is fundamental to our ability to remain competitive,”​ said Coleshill. “Like other manufacturing sectors, our industry is currently experiencing skills gaps in STEM- ​[science, technology, engineering and maths] related disciplines such as mechanical engineering and food science.”

Employability skills

While academic achievement in key skills was important, the value of employability skills acquired through practical work experience should not be forgotten, she added. In addition to more being done in schools, more collaboration between business and the education sector was also needed to ensure young people were well prepared for the world of work.

“This is why we have taken matters into our own hands and created a bespoke industry degree with employability skills at its core,”​ said Coleshill. “The MEng Food Engineering degree at Sheffield Hallam University will not only address our industry’s need for more mechanical engineers with knowledge of our sector, but will create graduates with relevant practical experience and who are employment-ready the moment they graduate.”

Students on the course will sign up for 50 weeks of work placements with food manufacturers during which they will be expected to display core skills including: planning, organisation and financial management.

Stephen Radley, policy director at the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, described as “disappointing”​ the fall in the numbers of pupils achieving A* to C grades in English, maths and the sciences.

Manufacturers were waiting to recruit young people, but in return they must be assured that students were equipped with the right skills and qualifications.

“Attainment in these key subjects is crucial for young people, whether they choose a vocational pathway, such as an apprenticeship, or remain in further or higher education,”​ said Radley.

Critical subjects

“Therefore, the government must immediately re-focus its efforts towards driving up the quality of teaching and ensure that more students achieve good grades in critical subjects such as English, maths and the sciences.”

Jon Poole, chief executive of the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST), welcomed the general continuing improvement in science A-level results. There was still a pressing need to grow the pipeline of potential new graduates to enter the food sector from both science and engineering backgrounds, he said.

“Some students may opt for food science and technology-related university or college courses but we know that this won’t be enough to satisfy the sector’s needs,”​ said Poole. “This means the food sector competing with other sectors to attract the brightest of those studying more general science and engineering degree subjects courses to encourage them consider careers in technical roles within the food chain as their preferred career option.”​ 

Employers in the food sector can of course also attract A-level students directly, he added. This may prove an attractive option for many students who wish to avoid student loans and receive structured training while working. 

“The sector is starting to look more coherent in its approach to attracting young talent with some excellent programmes and initiatives being developed​,” said Poole. “But there is a lot more we can do, for example, by better highlighting the career options and paths that can be followed. We also need to highlight the levels of professional recognition they can achieve, which demonstrate an individual's growth in the sector and so provide a recognised framework for development.”

Earlier this month the IFST said food and drink manufacturers should boost the number, quality and range of work experience placements​ for students.

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2 comments

There's more to teaching that just the teacher

Posted by Alan,

"more needs to be done to improve the quality of teaching...."

Education is a partnership of teacher, government and parent. I'm afraid if you want standards to improve any further you'll need to look at the other stakeholders, because there's little more for the teacher to give.

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Food and Drink Industry Leaders worry about exam results

Posted by Robert Voss,

As a school governor I, too, share concerns about falling grades, in particular the falling proportion of students achieving the top grades. However, like all things statistical, the devil is in the detail! This year has seen the highest number of year 10 children taking GCSEs one year early, effectively using them as mock exams. If these pupils are excluded from the statistics, you will find that grades have held up well for year 11 students.

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