Thursday, 15 October 2009


Sir Terry Leahy, the Chief Executive of Tesco, has criticised the standards of education in Britain as being "woefully low", and complains that businesses like his are left to pick up the pieces.

The Times writes 'Tesco is unhappy that it spends time training recruits in basic numeracy and “communications” skills, which includes writing, because workers are ill-equipped when they leave school.' Tesco seems distinctly less unhappy to pay their low-skilled workers close very close to the minimum wage. Tesco's complaint isn't about the educational system at all, which, incidentally, he is in no position to comment on - his complaint is that his business is loosing revenue from having to train up some of the 40,000 under-19s it employs. If they are keen to have 'better educated' employees they could maybe try offering a fairer wage. But no, that's the last thing they'll want to do - Leahy needs to take a step back and realise you can't have your cake and eat it. For want of a better metaphor, if you offer to pay people in peanuts, your only applicants are going to be monkeys.

His main gripe is that bureaucracy is stifling the educational process as teachers struggle to find their whiteboard pens amongst the red tape that is draped across their classrooms. How innovative, he's quite the bluesky thinker. Leahy thinks that school standards are too low - too low for whom? He's certainly not commenting here for the benefit of Britain's illiterate yoof - he is looking to gain from the better education of his students. I'd pity the students who manage to put in the extra effort, to grasp the basics of literacy and numeracy that are wanted by Tesco, only to end up employed in Tesco, where they will be underpaid, overworked and where they face little prospect of job mobility. If the children were 'better educated', you'd hope their newfound skills would take them away from the unskilled service sector.

And then we have another prize twat from the supermarket sector who considers himself this generations Giddens in terms of his depth of social knowledge - Andy Clarke, Asda’s chief operating officer, announced "No one can deny that Britain has spawned a generation of young people who struggle to read, write or do simple maths. That’s why we’re finding packs of nappies discarded in the booze aisle, as the last few pounds are spent on alcohol rather than childcare."

You'll have to pardon my partiality on this one, but what the fuck gives the manager of Asda the right to decry the failings of state education? Not least to perpetuate sweeping false generalisations about the inability of the poor in society to look after their children.

Sure, everyone knows that we have an education system which filters out students at various points - those who fail GCSEs end up working at the bottom rung, those who finish A-Levels start a little higher, many graduates can look at managerial salaries from the offset and so on. So yes, maybe Tesco and Asda are likely to end up 'purchasing' the lowest performing students from the state system; however, that gives them no right to oversee, to comment on, and infuriatingly, to have influence over the state system.

In terms of Tesco, I am very likely over the next couple of days to visit one of their stores to buy some apple juice. I, however, have no plans to gather a crowd outside of the store and bemoan the low quality of the apples. If I don't like the shit juice, I either don't buy it, or I offer up some more money to buy something of a higher quality. I don't stand out in the cold shouting off about how my cheap apple juice tastes cheap - you get what you pay for, and Tesco and Asda have absolutely no authority, as businesses, to issue comment on the perceived failings of the state education system.


Leo said...

Clearly Tesco have the right to comment as free speech is supposedly a fundamental right.

More relevantly though, tesco can make this assertion as they experience the people coming out of the education system as they are employers. Also they have the wisdom to criticise as they train people up to the standards they want so they know that they can do it better than state education so therefore state education could be better.

On your last paragraph, just because you do not do that doesnt make it unjust to do so. And your point that you get what you pay for is a clearly unfair point as labour is so ridiculously regulated in the UK with the minimum wage and the like that you cannot realistically as a business get what you pay for.

Jonathan Walker said...

Free speech is a human right - Tesco is an organisation, not a person, and for that reason, any statement that emanates from its representatives can be seen as a declaration of interests. Organisations like this do not speak out on public issues traditionally and rightly so in my opinion.

I'm pretty sickened by the in-your-face overtness of the marketisation in education here - it's as though now, private sector businesses view the education system as little more than a production line for their shopfloors, and the children as little more than tiny cogs in their wheels of efficiency.

Fair point about the juice analogy, but my point there was less about justice than about common sense - those who work in Tesco tend not to have lots of academic qualifications and that is what you would expect given the line of work. In addition, this means that Tesco can better justify the low wage they pay out.

Me, I just dislike the idea that education for those who are less successful ought to be a conveyor belt onto the shopfloor of a supermarket.

I don't know what you mean by the ridiculous regulation of the minimum wage though; I'm presuming you aren't arguing that the minimum wage is an unhelpful obstacle to competition in the labour market...

Leo said...

I am arguing that the minimum wage is an unhelpful obstacle to competition in the labour market which is only good for the very small percentage of the population on the minimum wage and bad for unemployment as it leads to outsourcing which is bad for the environment.

Jonathan Walker said...

So what you propose is taking the meagre wage that the poorest workers currently earn, slashing it in the name of competition, and all for the their own sake?

The population of workers in the UK who are working at, or close to, the minimum wage isn't that small a percentage in any case.

Leo said...

well any wage is better than no wage and thats what the minimum wage forces people into.

Yes I do believe that the minimum wage is very illiberal towards the worker it basically says if no one values your labour as more than this certain amount then you are not allowed to work. It is anti employment anti stupid people and anti disabled people.

Also its only the people on the minimum wage who could possibly be affected by it. Those unemployed gain nothing. Those with a higher wage gain nothing.