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School and college spotlight: Creating a common essential skills language
March 15, 2021

The team at Skills Builder are motivated and inspired by the wonderful work of our school and college partners. In a series of spotlights, we will explore how some of our schools and colleges are embedding the Skills Builder Principles in their settings and share some examples, top tips and quick wins which have inspired us and hopefully will inspire you too!

We will explore approaches used by some of our schools and colleges across mainstream and specialist settings. For more success stories click here.

The Principles

Skills Builder’s six principles drive our work to make a high level of competence in essential skills achievable for all children and young people. This post explores the first of those six principles: Keep it simple.

Keep it simple demonstrates how a consistent focus on essential skills helps ensure everyone’s shared understanding and makes building essential skills as tangible as possible. Using the same language all the time makes a big difference. 

What follows are some examples of how our schools and colleges are implementing principle one through:

  • Matching essential skills to school and college values
  • Involving parents and carers
  • Reinforcing the language of essential skills through reward systems and displays

Matching essential skills to school and college values 

Most education settings already have a set of values or principles. One of the first question many Skills Leaders ask is how these can be linked with the eight essential skills? 

Towers Infant and Junior School in Havering have made links between the essential skills and their school values of respect, unity, independence, love of learning and determination, tying them all together. This vision has been brought to life in the school logo which now includes reference to the eight essential skills highlighting the importance of essential skills within the school community. 

The Haven Voluntary Aided Church of England Methodist Primary School in Eastbourne have matched their core Christian Values to the essential skills, to make the learning easier for teachers and students. Christian Values and essential skills are taught together each half-term to raise aspirations and create well-rounded and successful learners. 

In Slough, at Littledown School, a special school which supports children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties, the consistent focus on essential skills helps ensure a shared understanding. Essential skills are included on lesson plans and referred to throughout the curriculum. Teachers focus on two essential skills per half-term and highlight to students where these are used in different subjects. Using the same language all the time makes a big difference to pupils and makes building essential skills as tangible as possible. 

Involving parents and carers 

To establish a common essential skills language throughout the community, our schools and colleges have explored the different ways to introduce parents, carers and visitors to the essential skills. During lockdown, as part of the remote learning timetable, teachers at St Paul’s CE Primary in Stoke-On-Trent shared a Skills Builder activity from the Skills Builder Home Learning Hub with learners at home. This was received well by parents who saw the impact of essential skills lessons on their children. The Skills Leader reported that: ‘Our children are familiar with the language and the cross curricular nature of our teaching has had a positive impact on learning.’

UTC Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park have also made an effort to engage parents and carers by using social media to update the wider community about the skill focus in school. Skills Builder icons and skill definitions are used to communicate the importance of each focus skill to specific careers. These links help staff, pupils, parents and carers to see the value of essential skills and how they lead to improved life outcomes. 

In Newcastle College, essential skills are a regular agenda item in staff and parent meetings and the curriculum and pastoral teams work together to ensure consistency in both language and approach.

Meanwhile, at Maplewell Hall, a special school in Loughborough, the Skills Builder Universal Framework is used to support conversations with parents about their children’s next steps and development priorities. Staff have found the tangible descriptors from the Framework really useful in supporting both parents and students to identify their next steps. These conversations have also formed part of students’ educational health and care plans. 

Reinforcing the language of essential skills

To reinforce a common essential skills language, there are a range of display and reward materials available for schools and colleges on the Hub

  • St Paul’s CE Primary use the Skills Builder icons in their curriculum displays and learning objectives to emphasise how the essential skills support curriculum teaching and learning. 
  • Towers Infant and Junior School have a Skills Builder display in every classroom, complete with icon posters and learners’ work. There are plans to further enhance the interactivity of these displays by creating a ‘Light it up’ system where stick-on LED lights are placed in the centre of each logo for students to ‘light up’ when they have demonstrated a skill. 
  • The Skills Leader at Grantham College in Lincolnshire has set up essential skills content on televisions around the college site. There are display boards that promote essential skills and support development in these skills. There is also a section of the college website devoted to essential skills. 
  • Meanwhile, UTC Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park are celebrating student success in essential skills by revising the college’s reward system to encompass the eight essential skills. Students are encouraged to recognise essential skills across the curriculum. Reward slips are given to students in lessons and recorded in iSAMS, then achievements are recognised in the end-of-term Reward Assembly. 

By building a common essential skills language, these schools and colleges are well placed to support their students in their academic recovery, employment opportunities and wider life outcomes. To find out more about how the essential skills support in these areas, take a look at our latest series of research:

  • This literature review showed that building essential skills boosts academic outcomes, employability outcomes, and well-being.
  • Our analysis of the British Cohort Study showed that essential skills were linked to improved literacy and numeracy at age 10, and careers aspirations and academic achievement at 16.
  • Our latest research showed that there is a wage premium to building essential skills for young people, as well as positive effects around self-efficacy and perseverance.

To hear more from our schools and colleges, look out for our next spotlight on creating a whole school approach from the youngest to the oldest pupils or browse our success stories at skillsbuilder.org/educators.

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