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Children’s University: How Skills Builder helps us answer the ‘so what?’ question
February 5, 2021
Helen O'Donnell
CEO, Children's University

With the support of Nesta’s Future Ready Fund, Children’s University set out to interrogate skills development in participants aged 11+. Check out the summary of the results here.

Children’s University encourages, tracks and celebrates children’s participation in learning beyond the classroom. Children collect stamps for taking part in activities and their efforts are then recognised with certificates at university-style graduation ceremonies.

When I joined as CEO just over 5 years ago, I was excited and encouraged by the organisation’s impressive numbers. We operate in over 1,000 schools and more than 110,000 children are part of our programme each year, taking part in over 3.6 million hours of activities. But the question niggling me then, and the one that I keep coming back to, is “so what?”

An accumulation of hours is impressive, but time spent participating in Children’s University activities is not in itself the aim; it’s what children get from participating. That’s where skills come in.

Over the last 5 years I’ve seen the impact that Children’s University has on the development of vital skills in young people. From talking to children on school visits, to parents at graduations, and hearing directly from our Managers and learning partners, it is clear that what we do helps children build the essential skills they need in education and beyond. But beyond this personal and anecdotal evidence, how do we actually measure this and evidence this impact scientifically?

Signing up as Skills Builder partners in 2018 and introducing their framework into Children’s University Online, our digital platform, was the first step towards us capturing this. Getting funding from Nesta as part of their Future Ready Fund was the second step. Nesta’s support meant that we were able to build a digital survey mechanism into our online platform that created a custom survey for each activity a child reported having done. With the support of the University of Sussex, we’ve been able to run these surveys accurately and robustly for just over a year and we now have a very real picture of the impact we have.

Our research report and its results have now been published and they completely validate our decision to partner with Skills Builder. The report is the first time my organisation can accurately illustrate and quantify the impact that our programme has on skills development. Importantly the results show a direct link between participation in Children’s University and the use and improvement in essential skills development.

For me and my colleagues at Children’s University, this is the Skills Builder Framework helping us to answer that “so what?” question. We now know that when we’re tagging activities on Children’s University Online with skills from the Skills Builder Framework, 92% of children feel these are accurate. Of these children, 94% of them feel that their use of these skills are also improving, with 73% of them tell us that they feel they’re strongly improving.

Using a common language around skills, we can show schools and partners a direct link between participation in Children’s University and the use and improvement in essential skills development. Thank you, Skills Builder!

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