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Bringing Learning to Life: The New Normal?
November 10, 2020
Gerard Liston
Director, Forum Talent Potential CIC

The conclusion of a recent article in The Guardian (20th Oct) titled “'Scarred for life': Sage experts warn of impact of Covid policies on the young” includes the shocking statement that, “we’re talking about this generation not being able to contribute to a well-functioning economy … The implications couldn’t be more far-reaching for us all.”

At a time when teachers and leaders are working hard to make their schools and classrooms safe, the future economy might seem a distant problem. They have also had to adapt to the use of online technology and are questioning a system that measures success by exam results. However, given the current distractions and future uncertainty, there has probably never been a more important time to answer the question – often unspoken – in the minds of many students: ‘What’s the point of learning this?’

Forum Talent Potential builds the capacity of teaching professionals to create ‘Meaningful Learning Experiences’ in partnership with local employers and to equip young people for life beyond school. Our CPD process helps to bring learning to life in the classroom and has more examples of good practice than any other programme of its kind. Earlier this summer, it was referenced by the Careers and Enterprise Company in guides for careers leaders as virtually the only proven solution for Gatsby Benchmark 4.

I am delighted that Forum Talent Potential has been a Skills Builder partner for the past couple of years. Working with schools up-and-down the country has shown us how relevant the six principles underlying the skills framework are in the development of curriculum projects.

Embedded in the Curriculum

Too often, and particularly when faced with challenges, such as Ofsted inspection or Covid-19, it is tempting for schools to give less commitment to the matter of ‘Careers’. The statutory duty starts at Year 8 and all secondary schools are now required to publish their careers programme and the name of their careers leader. But that person can easily become an isolated champion for the cause, trying to persuade colleagues to give up precious teaching time.

By embedding encounters with employers in existing schemes of work – particularly those identified by teachers as difficult to deliver or topics the students say are ‘boring’ – we have seen how it is possible to achieve Gatsby Benchmarks 4 and 5 without even mentioning ‘careers’.

Our CPD process typically involves working with an employer partner to set a purposeful challenge and provide some form of feedback after students have completed work on the project. Applying academic learning to real-life problems certainly contributes to Skills Builder Principle #6 (Bring it to Life). In addition, since curriculum learning is at the heart of each child’s journey from primary school to post-16 education, it also allows the process to begin well before the statutory duty (principle #2 – Start Early/Keep Going) and to be reinforced through the years (principle #5 – Keep Practising).

Employability Learning Journey

The concerns expressed in the recent Guardian article focus on future employment opportunities and employability of ‘Generation Z’ – not on their academic attainment. There is nothing new about a child asking ‘what’s the point’, but now school teachers and leaders are having to consider afresh the fundamental purpose of an education system that is trying to prepare young people for a world where the future shape of the jobs market, higher education, and even the sustainability of life on earth, are in question.

Central to each curriculum project is impact assessment, which focuses on the personal development of each child much more than proving the value of a particular programme or gathering data across a student cohort. That means self-assessment by each child after each Meaningful Learning Experience, but also periodic self-reflection to consider their individual strengths and areas for development, as well as career paths that have caught their interest. It is an approach advocated by the Skills Builder principles #3 (Measure It) and #4 (Focus Tightly).

Feedback from teachers has helped us reduce the self-assessment process to a concise form – typically online – that can be completed in minutes but captures evidence about what was learned in terms of a child’s development of personal motivation, future aspirations and employability skills.

In the absence of existing frameworks, we encourage schools to use Skills Builder, stressing the importance of using a consistent language and shared understanding by both students and teachers (principle #1 – Keep it Simple). Decisions about self-assessment and self-reflection affect teaching and learning and have timetable implications, so require commitment from leadership teams and, ideally, multi-academy trusts and other school alliances.

Having started back in 2012, Forum Talent Potential has a long track record, like Skills Builder, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Of course, anyone can propose an ideal set of life skills (and many have done so) and some are now publishing toolkits to bring classroom learning to life. But our experience is that success has little to do with theory or documents and a lot to do with the patience that is needed to change culture and win hearts and minds at the sharp-end of education.  


The Guardian, October 2020

Case Studies

CPD Process

In Practice: Multi-Academy Trust

The slogan for Academies Enterprise Trust is ‘Find your remarkable’ and this is reflected in a trust-wide commitment to careers. CEO Julian Drinkall has stated that, ‘Careers provision is at the heart of our recovery planning, linking to the overall intent of our schools and helping us to fulfil our core objectives - it is too important not to be.’

The trust’s involvement with Forum Talent Potential started with a group of schools around Birmingham, involving a wide range of curriculum subjects and employers, ranging from a recording studio and local care home to a global recycling company and the city planning team.

Many of the projects were delivered or completed during lock-down and all involved self-assessment that included the Skills Builder framework. The success of these pilot projects led on further curriculum projects in partnership with Health Education England, which is now being extended to include the trust’s primary schools.

Feedback from teaching staff (Midlands projects)

Feedback from careers/senior leader (HEE projects)

In Practice: Primary Schools

Forum Talent Potential was part of a consortium commissioned to pilot career-related learning with primary schools in the Derby Opportunity Area in 2019/20. The schools could opt for ‘masterclass’ support to help them bring subjects and teaching themes to life. This, and all other aspects of the programme, used the Skills Builder framework as an essential part of the impact assessment.

Curriculum projects covered all year groups, ranging from a reception class programme about Transport, which involved East Midlands Airport, to a half term theme about ‘Chocolate’ for year 5/6 pupils, in partnership with Hotel Chocolat.

The interest of teachers was as much about nurturing future aspirations as about enriching curriculum learning and feedback from school leaders indicated a genuine interest in building internal capacity among staff, rather than a dependency on external providers.

Feedback from a headteacher

Comments from children

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