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Skills Leader Network Event 4 - Developing a truly inclusive approach to building essential skills

Skills Builders mission is that “one day, everyone will build the essential skills they need to succeed”. In a school or college setting this means that the development of essential skills must be accessible to all students. In our most recent webinar we discuss what a truly inclusive approach to building essential skills could look like and share a range of strategies that can be used to do this. 

In this webinar we: 

  • heard from two skills leaders, who shared how they ensure their essential skills provision is truly inclusive
  • shared some practical ideas and strategies from schools we work with.

During the webinar we covered the following topics:

  • The importance of a truly inclusive approach (01:33 mins)
  • Guest Speaker: Jenna Priest Skills Leader, Post 16 Teacher, Isebrook School (06:30 mins)
  • Guest Speaker: Louise Holcroft Skills Leader, Assistant Headteacher Transitions & Inclusion, West Lancashire Community High School (25:25 mins)
  • Practical Ideas and strategies from other schools and colleges we work with ( 35:07 mins)

Watch the webinar recording here

Can’t watch now? Here’s a handy summary:

Our first speaker was Jenna Priest, a post-16 teacher and the Skills Leader at Isebrook school. Jenna has been working in SEN education for over 15 years. Jenna shared a range of resources used at Isebrook School from mindmaps to self evaluation forms and she discussed how they can be adapted for students so they can take ownership of their own development. She discussed how they encourage essential skill development when students are offsite on visits or work experience. They have developed their own work experience reflection form that students use to plan and reflect on their skills development. Jenna discusses how students are encouraged to get involved by having skills builder student champions-  who wear skills builder badges and take part in classroom checks to make sure the correct skill is being displayed.

Jenna discussed a range of different strategies that teachers and teaching assistants use to give live feedback to students such as using post-it notes to highlight skill usage or skill stickers that can go on their uniform. Jenna found this to be really successful for their non-verbal students. They have also used stickers as part of their marketing strategy too. On their learning platform Evidence for Learning, pictures of students' work are tagged using the expanded framework and students' success can be recognised using certificates. 

Adding the steps to EHCP outcomes has also been really successful, the EHCP outcomes have skill steps added into them to help students show progress towards their targets. The fact that students are working on developing their eight essential skills can also support section 5 of an EHCP.

Lastly, Jenna has found that using flyers and newsletters to communicate with parents and carers on how the students are engaging with the essential skills has been really successful. The newsletters include links to Homezone challenges and more information on how to build the skills at home.  

Our second speaker was Louise Holcroft, the Assistant Head Teacher for Transition and Inclusion at West Lancashire Community High School. Louise has been working in SEN education for over 20 years and has been using Skills Builder for 3 years now with a focus on developing their students employability skills. 

Louise highlighted how all subject areas incorporate Skills Builder and that the skills are embedded across the curriculum. They are identified within planning documents both medium term and short-term. The steps students are working towards are tracked which allows small steps to be measured through the expanded framework. Recognition of step success is then recorded on the Hub or through the excel spreadsheet to further support teaching and learning. Class charts also help to support when essential skills have been demonstrated and progress seen, to help support input on the Hub.

Louise shared how student passports are used to identify the steps that students are working on. This helps to support transition through school and is used as a quick reference for teachers to support the progress in the building of steps. The passport also supports employer engagement when students are placed on work placement. Employers support the development of skills through the completion of the placement review which also includes the essential skills.

Visual displays around schools support an inclusive environment and consistency in approach and stickers are given to students to celebrate successes.Planned sessions on the essential skills are used to support the development of skills outside of subject areas and making links to careers. Educational visits are linked to Skills Builder as part of the visit evaluation.

Both Jenna and Louise are happy to discuss any of the strategies they have mentioned in more detail and are happy for fellow skills leaders to reach out if they have any questions. 

Our next speaker was Lauren, a Skills Builder Education Associate, who went on to share some other strategies that we know schools and colleges working with us use. 

Specificity rather than progression

We know that some learners might not progress through the steps in a uniform way and profiles can therefore seem a little bit spikey. For example, a learner might struggle with Step 1 but really excel in a later step - we do not expect progress to be linear for all learners and the framework is not a ladder that must be climbed. Instead, you might want to take the approach of selecting specific steps that you feel are achievable for your learners and really zooming in on them, rather than focusing on progression.

Condensing skill steps into key vocabulary 

Adapting some of the language that features in the framework to make it more accessible to your learner can be a great strategy. For example, condensing each skill step into one single word or a short phrase to summarise what students need to do to excel in that skill. The Expanded Framework posters can really support this. Some settings display key vocabulary like “following instructions” or “asking for help” on a ppt slide or on the wall this helps learners to recognise that these phrases are vital parts of the problem solving skill and can recognise specific examples of this skill in action.

Adapting skill development

Equally, sometimes it’s important to rephrase a step or think about what this might look like for your students. For example, if making eye contact is difficult for learners and therefore Step 6 of listening seems inaccessible, are they able to show that they are listening through other particular responses or body movements? As the expert in your learner’s needs, you will know what meeting each step looks like for them. This could be using pictures, symbols, or roleplay. 

Personalising skill development

As well as adapting the language used in the framework, it might help to personalise the skill development for your learners, this can make progress more tangible and explicit. You might want to be really specific with what progress or success looks like for your learners and quantify how long students could go without interrupting in different social situations, like talking to a teacher and different friends. Similarly, you might want to specify activities or topics that you know your learner struggles to stay positive in, such as Maths, drawing or team games. These step-specific targets could feed into wider goals or targets, such as those included in EHCPs. 

Adapting Homezone challenges

One specialist setting we work with have adapted the skill challenges on Homezone, to make practical activities for their students to explicitly learn the skills. They took relevant challenges that were classroom appropriate and made them into dual-coded cards, which are double-sided. They are often used as either extension tasks or activities in lessons and provide great support to learners in building their essential skills. 

Tracking skill development

We work with a number of Alternative Provisions that use Benchmark as a way to baseline their learners’ essential skills when they first arrive at the provision, alongside the standard English and Maths assessments that learners often complete. One Alternative Provision that we work with prefers to use offline, paper copies of the Benchmark self-assessment form.A skills profile is then created for the learners with individual targets, taken from this baseline assessment. This is then updated throughout their time at the AP and is shared with the learner’s homeschool upon their return. This strategy doesn’t just apply to learners in Alternative Provisions, and is great practice for tracking skill development in general, especially when monitoring progress made in any interventions that learners might receive. 

Thank you 

Thank you to our guest speakers Jenna and Louise and to everyone who attended. It was great to hear your questions and reflections at the end of the session.  

Would your learners enjoy building skills on a challenge day?

Take your learners on a journey of essential skills development through practical and engaging teaching like challenge days. Explore the possibilities on the funded Global Accelerator programme for educators worldwide – apply now.