Eight key skills to embed in the curriculum

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The recent Learning Curve report identified eight skills that are crucial to young people’s future success. Phil Parker argues that all eight must be embedded across the curriculum.

The Pearson report, The Learning Curve, may not have been on many teachers’ reading lists. It is probably because Pearson’s emphasis is on economics as much as it is education (economic fact: The OECD claims economic growth in the last decade has come from improved skills).

Yet this report has major considerations for all of us in this country if we care about how we equip our students for the future.

The report flies in the face of Michael Gove et al when it states: “It has become increasingly clear that basic reading, writing and arithmetic are not enough. The importance of 21st century non-cognitive skills – broadly defined as abilities for social interaction – is pronounced.” 

Even the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher says: “The world economy no longer pays for what people know but what they can do with what they know.”

All well and good, but what are the solutions when Ofsted and politicians create problems which constrict the growth of skills in education and prevent us from equipping our students for the future. 

In Pearson’s report, Sir Michael Barber might well include England when he states: “Even the highest-performing countries in The Learning Curve Index are far from providing education that ensures every single student is prepared for informed citizenship and 21st century employability.”

Pearson’s report identifies “eight skills that go beyond the 3Rs”. They are: leadership, digital literacy, communication, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurship, global citizenship, problem-solving, and team-working.

It points out that, just like any skill, regular practice is essential if these eight are to be mastered. Experiencing them in “one-off events”, in extra-curricular activities and enrichment weeks, doesn’t work – they are flawed “box-ticking” approaches. 

Students need regular access to practise such skills. For a long time, we have called them transferable skills, because we want to see them in every subject, in every lesson; they need to be embedded. But therein lays the problem – you need a coherent and consistent means to embed the skills.

The solution isn’t rocket science. It is about taking these words and the language that defines them to make them explicit so students recognise them, relate them to similar activities, and use the words to communicate to each other and to their teachers.

Let’s take “entrepreneurship” as an example. It requires young people to understand the commercial risks of doing something new and different, identifying gaps in the market, and filling those gaps with products and services. How can it fit within secondary education in an explicit way?

  • In maths, students learn about expenditure, income and profit, examine the financial margins where risk might be necessary.

  • Design technology identifies market innovation, evaluation of existing products and refining them with new ideas.

  • Geography addresses the entrepreneurship necessary in Fair Trade cooperatives in developing countries.

  • ICT explores how the coding for a new app can be developed and marketed.

These illustrations can, if we don’t think coherently in curriculum design, all happen in isolation and students won’t make the connection. We need that connection to be explicit so that they do.

“Remember what you learned about entrepreneurship in maths? I need you to use that information now to analyse how Ghana’s Fair Trade cooperatives are being entrepreneurial.”

Here’s another example: communication. Now that speaking and listening has been devalued the danger is it might disappear – yet it should be high-profile. Students need to develop the full range of this highly complex skill.

In America they have defined how it can be done and it is getting traction in schools because politicians and business leaders realise such competencies make young people employable. Here’s the competencies they have defined for communication:

  • Articulate thoughts and ideas using oral, written and non-verbal means.

  • Listen to decipher meaning and intentions.

  • Communicate to inform, instruct, motivate, persuade and debate.

  • Use multiple media to generate impact and assess it.

  • Communicate in diverse environments (such as other languages).

  • Collaborate with others effectively and respectfully.

  • Compromise and show flexibility and willingness to achieve a common goal.

  • Assume shared responsibility for the team’s work.

Where do these communication competencies not exist in any lesson, in any subject? Yet do we tell our students when they use these competencies, they are exercising their communication skill and how important it is for the future?

Map where the eight skills exist within your curriculum, make sure teachers know this and communicate it to students consistently. The skills need to be high-profile, have status, and not be an afterthought. Students need to know how vital the skills are for their future success, and that they can raise achievement too! It may be a steep learning curve for some schools, given the political climate, but it is a curve we need to be climbing.

  • Phil Parker, an ex-senior leader, is now a director of Student Coaching Ltd which works with schools eager to develop rounded young people by transforming the way teachers and students learn. Visit www.studentcoaching.co.uk


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