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Teaching skills explicitly at Curwen Primary School

Since 2012, Curwen Primary School has been working with us to build the eight essential skills with their students. Over the years, students across the whole school have had the chance to develop skills through multi-session Classroom Projects as well as Challenge Days and Trips to Employers.

More recently, teachers at Curwen Primary have started to use the resources on the Skills Builder Hub to give dedicated time just to develop students’ skills. Teachers have undergone training with our staff on the most effective ways to teach these skills, allowing them to make a big impact in any amount of time.

Classrooms at Curwen Primary feature the eight essential skills prominently

The Skills Builder Hub contains a wide array of resources to help educators integrate skills into their everyday teaching, like detailed Skill Handbooks (with practical advice and activities for teaching each skill at every age), wall displays, reward systems, and ‘passports’ for tracking skill development. In addition, for every step of each skill we provide short video activities that help learners develop essential skills step by step.

So far, the results have been very positive. Teachers have reported that students found the video and Handbook activities clear, engaging and easy to follow. Everyone surveyed said they would recommend other teachers use the activities in their classrooms. They were especially appreciative of the opportunity to focus explicitly on the skills one at a time.

To understand more about the effect these skills lessons have had, we caught up with Mubeena Sardar, PSHE and Skills Lead at Curwen Primary, to find out the importance of making dedicated time to build essential skills.

The essential skills unlock learning in other subjects - improving Teamwork in Geography, for example

Mastering the eight essential skills empowers students to succeed when they leave school – whatever path they choose. But it also unlocks learning in the classroom. A detailed, practical understanding of Teamwork strategies, for instance, has extended into subjects like Geography, where there is a lot of group collaboration. ‘The videos break it down in a way they understand,’ explains Mubeena. ‘I know the skills are being used in other lessons all the time, but the explicit teaching makes it easier to complete a different task requiring the skills.’

A common language around the skills also helps to avoid confusion as students move up through the school, highlighting the need to start young and keep going. ‘They are exposed to the same language throughout their time at school,’ says Mubeena, ‘which means they don’t suddenly need to adapt when they move up into Key Stage 2 – they’re the same skills they’ve been learning since Reception.’

One of the key principles of the Skills Builder approach is keep practising. On top of the opportunities students get to reinforce skills through Challenge Days, Trips and Projects, Mubeena said she has found it helpful to run the videos one after the other because ‘children are able to remember the format and what we are focusing on.’ She has found the repetition especially valuable with younger students, and stressed that the clear segmenting of the Framework allows students to develop a skill by building up proficiency step by step.

Essential skills are built explicitly into learning in lessons at Curwen Primary

The flexibility of these activities is ideal in a packed timetable, too – the videos are perfect for tutor time or other small periods of time, but the activities are deep enough to be extended further than that. ‘Some teachers have spent longer than the directed time for the activity,’ says Mubeena, ‘and you can tell by the outcomes… but the same activity video can be delivered effectively in 15 minutes or 45 minutes.’

A crucial part of effective skills education is measuring it, so teachers at Curwen Primary use the Skills Builder Assess tool to track their students’ skills as they move through the school. This allows them to identify areas of weakness in every student to student and plan the next steps. Mubeena notes that dedicated skill lessons have helped with this as well: ‘It’s been interesting to see the different outcomes from the same activity… they highlighted how the students are in different places.’

Students and teachers may already have a lot to think about, but Mubeena notes that using the Skills Builder Framework allows them to keep it simple by referring to the same skills across contexts: ‘Teachers can bring up the same skills in the same way whether they are in a skill lesson, in all subjects, on the playground or in an assembly. It’s consistent from start to end.’

Making dedicated time to teach essential skills has proved invaluable across contexts

Making dedicated time to teach skills also helps students to understand the importance of these skills and helps them take more direct responsibility for improving them. Teachers at Curwen Primary overwhelmingly reported that teaching essential skills in this way helped students to see how the skills would serve them beyond school and into their careers – bringing the skills to life in a crucial way.

We also spoke to John Potter, Assistant Headteacher at Curwen Primary, who talked about the way that this focus on skills has supported the school’s goals, as well as their plans for further integration in the future: ‘As an academy, we are looking to refine our curriculum over the next few years to ensure what we teach alongside literacy and numeracy is having the biggest impact. We started by focusing on skills and PSHE, thinking carefully about how to help children learn.’

Focusing tightly on skills in dedicated time is a key principle of the Skills Builder approach, and so has become central to the school’s plan to link skill learning more deeply into other subject areas going forward. ‘You can’t embed something without having already taught it explicitly,’ says John, ‘so skill lessons will be fundamental to an embedded approach.’

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