Do you produce rounded and grounded young people?


Is your school an exam factory, or does it produced ‘rounded and grounded’ young people, who are ready for the workplace? Phil Parker asks the question.

ON GCSE results day, Nick Hurd, the minister for civil society, said: “According to the CBI, employability now consists of developing skills beyond literacy and numeracy. They cite people skills, self-reliance, teamwork, resilience, the ability to communicate well. These are the so-called soft skills that are increasingly important in the modern workplace.”

I want to pose some questions that could have an impact on your CPD for this year. It’s a debate I shall come back to in the months to come.

Question 1: What are schools for? Are schools about educating young people to pass exams? Or should we be producing what the CBI calls “rounded and grounded” young people?

Research shows poor skill-sets cost the UK economy more than £10 billion a year in lost revenue from taxes, lower productivity and the increased burden on the welfare state. The training implications? We need to stop spoon-feeding students. We need to get students thinking for themselves. Not easy if your goal is to squeeze another five per cent out of your exam performance.

Question 2: How independently minded are your students? This quality is a necessary commodity for the 21st century and its “knowledge economy”. In 1970, one fifth of the UK workforce were “knowledge workers”, today it’s two fifths, and by 2020 it will be half. Between 1979 and 2010 employment in knowledge-intensive industries increased by around 90 per cent – this is where employment will be found.

But “knowledge industries” need independently minded people, not those who’ve been spoon-fed. So what training is needed to facilitate this goal? Start thinking about how these soft skills can be embedded across the curriculum.

According to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD): “Knowing what to do in a particular setting can be acquired directly through formal learning, but knowing how and when to apply the relevant knowledge and skill is more nuanced and is acquired experientially.” 

They quote researchers like Kolb and his traditional learning cycle. It works in employment training just as it does in schools and colleges:

  • Doing: engage in an experience in the real world, in real time.

  • Reflecting: observe events as they unfold.

  • Concluding: interpret and make sense of the experience reflected on.

  • Applying: test out interpretation.

The CIPD states: “Soft skills don’t develop overnight; they’re built up over the longer term by transforming experiences through the process of learning.”

Question 3: How well are we preparing young people for life beyond school? According to Working Links, a training agency working with NEETs: ‘To improve the situation there needs to be more correlation between mainstream, further and higher education courses and the labour market. Young people are not getting the messages about jobs and what employers want clearly enough.” 

Their survey found that 86 per cent of employers look for “potential” and defined this as having “soft skills” and “the right attitude”.

The CPD implication here? How are schools addressing the preparation process for leaving school? Is it geared towards academia? Are vocational destinations understood? Who is responsible for ensuring students are well-informed? 

If their skill-sets are evident and explicit throughout their time in education, young people should know where they are heading. But if their focus is on their next exam, preparation for the big wide world could be a destination on a rather foggy horizon. I don’t think that is what any of us want.

We must avoid this outcome but it will mean broadening our focus as schools, colleges and educators and training staff accordingly.

  • Phil Parker is an ex-senior leader of a successful school and is now a director of Student Coaching Ltd. Visit


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