United Kingdom

John Lewis boss says firm has to give young staff basic literacy and numeracy classes

The boss of John Lewis has revealed the firm is having to give basic literacy and numeracy classes to young staff because they have been 'completely failed' by the education system.

In a stinging criticism of the UK's education set-up, Dame Sharon White said some of the 16 year olds it hired did not have 'functional literacy and numeracy' skills.

She also warned that children who are less academically inclined are not always able to reach their full potential.

Dame Sharon said: 'To have done ten years, 11, 12 years of education, and not having, in many cases, functional literacy, certainly, pretty typically not having functional numeracy beyond the age of, I'd say, ten, 11, means that they may then have fabulous people skills and fabulous skills in terms of operating in a team but that's almost outwith the education system.' 

In a stinging criticism of the UK's education set-up, Dame Sharon White (pictured) said some of the 16 year olds it had hired did not have 'functional literacy and numeracy' skills

The commission is examining the future of education in light of the Covid-19 crisis.

It will also look at the decline in social mobility, as well as how technology can help improve education for children in the UK.

Former Labour prime Minister Tony Blair, children's laureate Cressida Cowell and director of the National Theatre Rufus Norris are among those giving evidence to the committee.

The year-long commission is set to produce a final report in June 2022.

Meanwhile, exam board Pearson is currently running a consultation on the exam system - called The Future of Assessment.

It is examining what format qualifications between the ages of 16 and 18 might take and how effective the system is at supporting young people.

Recent research from the consultation found four out of five employers in the UK said qualifications did 'not give young people the skills they need for work'.

Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK, called for employers to be more involved in education policy.

He told the Times: 'It's not necessarily about designing another exam to test whether they have these skills, but it is important we know they had the experiences where learning can happen.'

As part of a raft of new measures set out by Dame Sharon, employees will only be required to come into the office for two days a week. 

The retailer, which also owns Waitrose, will also advertiser all new vacancies with a flexible working option.

John Lewis currently has two large officers in Bracknell and London, as well as call centres in Scotland and Didsbury. 

A spokesman said there were no imminent plans to cut office space. 

Earlier this year it was announced John Lewis will permanently shut several more of its department stores after it fell to its first loss in its 157-year history.

The closures are the second time the partnership has been forced to take drastic action to protect the business in the pandemic.

It is fighting back after losing a mammoth £517million in 2020 because of closures and consumers’ rapid shift to online shopping.

Bosses warned financial results will be even worse next year and staff will not receive the coveted bonus for two years running, the first time in the firm’s history.

The firm is also reviewing its Never Knowingly Undersold price pledge, which has been in place since 1925, and is already cutting prices to widen its appeal.

It is thought that around eight of department stores will shut, on top of eight shops closed last year, as part of plans to cut £300million of annual costs.

The retail giant did not say exactly how many of its 42 John Lewis shops will close, saying a final decision will be made at the end of March following talks with landlords.

Such a move would likely result in hundreds of redundancies. It has already shed 1,300 shop staff and 1,500 head office workers.

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