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6 Principles for essential skills development in education

Schools and colleges across the globe are building children and young people’s essential skills. There are six principles of best practice that support educators across all settings to build successful skill development strategies for their learners. 

92% of teachers believe that explicitly teaching essential skills is important in preparing learners for both life and work - Essential Skills Tracker 2024

Schools and colleges on digital membership programmes, an annual subscription to Skills Builder’s online tools and resources, are among those leading the way in best essential skills practice.

Principle 1: Keep it simple

Schools and colleges keeping it simple focus on a consistent set of essential skills. They use the language of the Universal Framework to make the skills as tangible and objective as possible.

Endeavour Academy displays the essential skill icons around their classroom boards so that teachers can consistently reference the skills while teaching. Visual cues are an excellent way to remind staff and learners to reflect on the skills throughout the wider curriculum. 

Learners (and staff) are also rewarded with badges for evidencing skill development and they even have a selfie frame used to commemorate learners’ success. The Universal Framework enables staff to explain how the learner demonstrated the skill with specific, tangible evidence.

“We look for every opportunity we can to develop the essential skills and love it when young people (previous learners) visit us and tell us how those skills have been put to good use and have helped raise their confidence in life after school.” 

- Lesley Wood, Deputy Head, Endeavour Academy

Principle 2: Start early, keep going

Essential skills development offers opportunities for lifelong learning. It’s best practice to ensure that learners have the chance to build their skills from the moment they join your organisation to set them up to learn effectively in the future.

All students at Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College use a Skills Map for each subject. These Skills Maps set out the opportunities learners have to develop the eight essential skills over their two years of study. 

The college encourages students to evidence their development through their own Skills Portfolio. As a result, learners are empowered to take ownership of their skills throughout their entire college experience.

Principle 3: Measure it

Formative assessment is key in knowing where learners are at and where they need to go. Evaluating learners’ prior knowledge enables teachers to pitch their teaching at the right level and progress students’ skills step by step. 

At Henley College, all students complete a skills reflection on Skills Builder Benchmark when they arrive at college. These reflections then form the basis of learners’ 1:1s, enabling tutors to give individualised support to their students. Data from Benchmark also highlights strengths and areas for development across the whole college, giving key insights to form a more impactful skills programme.

Principle 4: Focus tightly

This principle is about ensuring learners have regular opportunities to build their essential skills through direct teaching and deliberate practice.

Teachers at Market Deeping Community Primary explicitly teach essential skills using resources from Skills Builder Hub throughout the curriculum. Each lesson has a focus skill in order to support the learning intention. To support these regular opportunities for direct teaching and practice, learners are rewarded for their skills development in celebration assemblies.

“The Skills Builder programme permeates everything we do for the pupils in our school.  The skills drive our school values which are threaded throughout our curriculum coverage.  We use them to reward pupils and weekly certificates are presented to those who demonstrate the skills and our values.  Children earn tokens for each skill and these lead to improved learning for children of all ages.  The Challenge Days are a great way to bring everything together and celebrate how well the children are developing the skills they need to be productive citizens of the future.  We are very proud of our work with Skills Builder and it has been instrumental in improving opportunities for pupils and standards in the school.”

- Mark Ratchford, Headteacher, Market Deeping Community Primary 

Principle 5: Keep practising

Alongside direct teaching, essential skills are built with wider reinforcement and practice across the curriculum, and beyond. Giving learners the opportunity to understand how the skills support their subject lessons, extracurricular activities and wider lives is vital in building their skills.

As well as teaching Skills Builder lessons, teachers at Ysgol Nantgwyn are encouraged to bring the essential skills into every lesson. Teachers highlight links between lesson content and the skills, as well as rewarding learners for demonstrating them. Extracurricular clubs are also linked to a particular skill so students understand where and how they are building their skills in all activities.

Principle 6: Bring it to life 

The final principle is about linking the essential skills not just to classroom learning but to wider life, including the world of work. Giving learners an opportunity to practise the skills in a wide range of contexts helps them to understand that the essential skills are highly transferable beyond education. 

Brighton & Hove Sixth Form College gives students a chance to practise their skills in Skills Week during which learners take part in live or virtual work experiences or volunteering. 

They have an individualised journal to record their progress and practise their essential skills. Alongside Skills Week, My Future Plans is an initiative to support learners to think about their skill strengths and areas for development in order to make informed choices for their future.

These are just a few examples of how schools and colleges are providing exceptional skills education to their learners. 

To learn more about the six principles of best practice, you can find advice and guidance in the Award Guide. You can also find out more about joining Digital Membership - an online membership to Skills Builder tools and resources.

Would your learners enjoy building skills on a challenge day?

Take your learners on a journey of essential skills development through practical and engaging teaching like challenge days. Explore the possibilities on the funded Global Accelerator programme for educators worldwide – apply now.