By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.

View our Privacy Notice.

Delivering on the manifestos: essential skills for all learners

Essential skills feature in manifestos

The main UK parties’ manifestos are out and the countdown to the general election is on. It is clear that the Labour party, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats all want children and young people to have the skills to succeed. 

We are encouraged to see essential skills featuring across the manifestos. Both Labour and Liberal Democrats explicitly commit to building learners’ essential skills, including creativity, problem-solving, speaking and listening, and to broaden the curriculum to develop these skills. Why is this important and how do we get there?

The current picture: opportunity is not evenly distributed

Essential skills have been shown to increase individuals’ job and life satisfaction, increase their earnings meaningfully over their lives, and significantly reduce the likelihood of being out of work or training.

However, Essential Skills Tracker 2022 found that the distribution of essential skills, and opportunity for individuals to build them is highly uneven throughout the UK. The research found that people who attended non-independent or non-selective schools or whose parents had lower levels of education themselves had fewer opportunities and lower essential skills levels. 

The research also identified a “skills trap” - those who experience fewer opportunities to build essential skills early on have lower skill levels. Later in life these individuals secure lower skilled, lower paid jobs that in turn provide fewer opportunities to build essential skills across the rest of their working lives.

How to escape the skills trap and ensure everyone can build essential skills?

Our work over the last fifteen years alongside more than 900 partners has demonstrated that everyone can make progress in their essential skills. However, the most critical starting point is a shared route map of how to do this, to understand where people are starting from and to help make that journey together.

That’s why the Skills Builder Partnership developed the Universal Framework with the Careers & Enterprise Company, Gatsby Foundation, CBI and CIPD. The Universal Framework is already used by schools and colleges across the country to build and assess essential skills and was recommended in the Lord Blunkett’s Council of Skills report. Last year alone, more than 18,000 teachers were trained and supported to use the Universal Framework approach, and our impact report demonstrated a rapid acceleration of their learners’ progress as a result of more than 2.4 times the pace of their peers.

The manifestos: an in-depth look

A truly broad and balanced curriculum should give every learner the opportunity to build the knowledge and understanding of the world, character, and skills to be successful.

That should include the explicit teaching of essential skills, their deliberate practice, and their thoughtful application in a wide range of settings. Labour have committed to a curriculum and assessment review to broaden the curriculum to develop essential skills including speaking and creativity. The Liberal Democrats have also pledged to broaden the curriculum, embedding development of essential skills. Our showcase hosts hundreds of examples of schools and colleges already excelling at how to teach these essential skills through their curriculums, using the Universal Framework.

Education and training routes that equip people with essential skills are key to providing opportunities to develop essential skills. The conservative manifesto commits to the Advanced British Standard and the Liberal Democrats to “make qualifications at 16 and 18 fit for the 21st century”. IfATE and DfE have already recommended the Universal Framework for apprenticeships and T Levels, and embedding essential skills in all qualifications at post- 16 could help deliver a complete education and portfolio of skills for all learners. For example, the Institute of Directors called for the Advanced British Standard to use the Universal Framework to ensure young people leave school with the skills required by employers. 

Extracurricular activities also provide important opportunities for learners to develop their essential skills, and successful schools are using the Universal Framework in their provision. The Conservatives have committed to supporting the National Citizens Service (NCS). NCS is already building participants’ essential skills using the Universal Framework through their residential programmes, community partners and digital offer. 

A high quality careers education includes development of essential skills: The Careers & Enterprise Company and statutory guidance recommend schools and colleges in England use the Universal Framework to achieve the Gatsby Benchmarks. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats want to improve careers education, and Labour have also committed to two weeks’ worth of work experience for young people alongside a youth guarantee for all 18- to 21-year-olds of access to training or support to find work. Individuals with higher essential skills are 25-50% less likely to be out of work or education, and many of our employers are already working hard to develop essential skills through their outreach and work experience programmes. 

Investment in teacher training can also ensure essential skills are taught effectively - we need teachers who are confident in how to teach and assess essential skills at all levels of education. The Liberal Democrats’ programme of high-quality professional development for all teachers, and Labour’s ‘Teacher Training Entitlement’ and update of the Early Careers Framework all provide opportunities to train teachers to teach and assess essential skills effectively.

The ultimate goal

Increasing the opportunities for young people to develop essential skills through a broad curriculum, high quality careers education and access to extracurricular activities is key to ensuring young people succeed, whatever their pathway. There have been recent encouraging policy developments, but new policies have the potential to firmly embed effective teaching of essential skills through national education policy in England.

We welcome the growing momentum behind making essential skills a core part of a good education for every child and young person, and look forward to working together to seize the opportunity.