It was great to see the final report of the Future Perfect Education Commission last week. The Commission brought a refreshing perspective of not starting with simply making incremental reforms to today’s system, but rather imagining a future perfect system.
While the individuals involved contributed in an individual capacity, there was a good spread of perspectives and organisations reflected, with support from Warwick University on building the research base.
There are lots of ambitious, but thoughtful ideas in the report, but what resonated most with me was this critical recommendation:
“Building knowledge and cognitive skills remains essential, especially literacy and numeracy. The next generation will also need essential social and emotional skills to cope with an uncertain, changing and high skills future.”
A complete curriculum
This is the heart of our philosophy at Skills Builder Partnership. We recognise that a good education should build three things:
- Knowledge and understanding of the world
- Character and behaviours that are aligned with making good choices
- Skills to be able to make things happen
All too often, we start and end our efforts with just building learners’ knowledge and understanding of the world. This is a vital foundation, but is insufficient.
That insufficiency is increasingly clear in a world where employers are moving beyond grades and investing much more heavily in understanding and building those broader skills for their new recruits. Some of our employer partners now make their recruitment decisions blind to the prior academic achievements of candidates, for example.
Putting it into practice
The Commission’s report goes further by highlighting three critical pillars for placing greater emphasis on building essential skills, recommending that we:
- Build on the knowledge rich curriculum, literacy and numeracy by developing essential skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, and resilience which support employability and citizenship.
- Create an assessment system which recognises development of the whole child.
- Invest heavily in helping teachers, leaders and schools acquire the capabilities to deliver the new approach.
Again, this resonates with the Skills Builder approach. There is no trade-off between a knowledge-rich curriculum and also building essential skills. Indeed, one of the reasons why our school partners are such enthusiastic advocates for investing in these skills for their children and young people is because they see that skills like listening, speaking, teamwork, creativity and problem solving support that sort of learning.
Similarly, there is a need to bring a greater level of rigour to how we approach assessment around essential skills. This continues to be an area where we are putting considerable resources, as we work to test and refine a range of approaches – including with the support of Nesta. The Skills Builder Universal Framework takes another big step towards being able to measure these essential skills in a robust way – using clearer statements that can be assessed by teachers and individuals.
Finally, we must not underestimate the gap in confidence and training that we will need to overcome for the development of essential skills. Most of the teachers we work with have never had a single hour of training on how to build these skills or how to track whether it is working.
There are a lot of good, thoughtful ideas in this wide-ranging report. The recommendations around essential skills are ones that at the Skills Builder Partnership we have the scope to support.
There are a growing number of schools and colleges in this country who are working hard to build essential skills through the Skills Builder Partnership. In the last year, we directly supported more than 400 of them, but through our partners like the Careers & Enterprise Company, NCS, Business in the Community, Young Enterprise and the 120 others, almost every secondary school in the country now has a touchpoint with the Skills Builder Framework.
We can continue to build on this momentum because employers are now also swinging resolutely behind the approach too: both supporting the building of essential skills in education, and also using the Skills Builder language to bridge the gap between education and employment. More than 100 employers are already supporting essential skills in this way.
Over the next five years, through the Partnership, we hope to make real progress towards that crucial recommendation: Ensuring that the next generation are equipped with the essential l skills to cope with an uncertain, changing and high skills future – and to thrive in it.