Over the last decade, the Skills Builder approach has transformed the teaching of essential skills in education systems and classrooms across the world. Since we originally started in a single classroom in the UK, it’s been a privilege to work with teachers in Canada, policy makers in Kenya and Uganda, education charities in the Czech Republic, and see learners building their essential skills in ten further countries.
When we started what became Skills Builder Partnership back in 2009 essential skills like communication, collaboration, creative problem solving and self-management had already been long been called-for. The problem was not that as teachers we didn’t see these skills as important. Of course, we all wanted our students to be equipped with these skills that would set them up for the rest of their lives.
Indeed, evidence we have built over the past two years shows that these skills unlock learning in the classroom, boosting academic outcomes, perseverance and self-belief. They halve the likelihood of being out of work, and increase earnings across a lifetime. They even boost wellbeing and life satisfaction.
But access to these skills isn’t fair. As educators, it can be difficult to go from knowing these skills matter to how to teach them in the classroom with real rigour.
The Skills Builder Handbook for Educators
Published in full for the first time, this Handbook helps any educator to use the Skills Builder approach with their learners – whether in primary school, secondary school, college or special school. Deliberately practical, it supports any educator to break down essential skills into teachable steps using the Skills Builder Framework which has itself been used with more than 2 million individuals in the last year.
The Skills Builder approach focuses on building eight essential skills:
The Handbook starts by exploring how skills are built, and the key principles that make a difference. These Principles have been build up over a decade’s experience and help educators and system leaders to implement essential skills teaching effectively.
Highly effective schools and colleges follow these principles:
Keep it simple: They focus on a simple, consistent set of essential skills, making these as clear and universally understood as possible – among learners, parents, and educators.
Start early and keep going: They see these skills as supporting learning and learners’ wider development, and as something to be sustained rather than being built as a quick-fix at the point of entering employment.
Measure it: They take care to understand properly the existing strengths and development needs of their learners in relation to essential skills. They also track progress over time to keep every learner on track for success.
Focus tightly: They use their prior understanding of learners’ essential skills to focus on the next steps. This includes explicit and direct instruction on essential skills – not just hoping that they get picked up along the way.
Keep practising: They reinforce these essential skills in other parts of the curriculum and beyond it, including by linking up with other impact organisations whose programmes can support their learners.
Bring it to life: They make the essential skills real by bringing the working world into the classroom and showing learners how these skills are useful across their lives. This boosts their transferability beyond education.
The Handbook includes indicators to help visualise what these principles look like in practical terms in your classroom, school, or college.
Teaching step by step
The Handbook goes much further than the principles though: It has been designed to be deliberately practical, allowing every educator to confidently assess and build the essential skills of their learners.
For each of the eight essential skills, the Handbook breaks each skill down into the sixteen progressive steps going from Step 0 for an absolute beginner through to Step 15 for mastery of that skill. As you’ll see when you explore the Principles, effectively building essential skills requires a combination of direct, explicit teaching (‘Focus Tightly’) alongside reinforcement and practice (‘Keep Practising’), and effective assessment (‘Measure It’).
This is reflected in the design of each Skill Step in the Handbook, covering:
- Building blocks: to structure the step
- Reflection questions: to support assessing prior understanding
- What you need to know: to cover the core underpinning content of the skill step
- Teaching it: to give you ideas of how to teach this step to learners directly
- Reinforcing it: to think about how to practice this step across the wider curriculum
- Assessing it: to explore how best to assess the skill step
The Handbook has been designed so you can dip in and out, focusing on the skill steps that are most relevant for your learners.
Educators across the world have put the approach behind the Handbook into practice and seen the impact of it on their learners. As teachers, nothing is as thrilling as seeing our learners make progress – the first time that they are able to express their aspirations, create a new idea, or test a hypothesis of their own.
I hope you enjoy the journey of putting the Skills Builder approach into action.