How to link skills learning with the curriculum: Gatsby benchmark 4

By Tom Ravenscroft

What skills are essential for the working world and how can you nurture these among your students? Tom Ravenscroft provides 5 key steps to help you achieve Gatsby Benchmark 4.

Most teachers value skills as much as academic outcomes.

There are a set of skills that matter way beyond school – like teamwork, leadership, self-management and communication. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has been consistent for years on the need to build these skills, and recent research from the Sutton Trust revealed 97% of teachers thought these skills were at least as important as academic outcomes for their students’ future success.

While these skills are essential, the challenge has always been how to build them in a way that is robust and effective. How can we ensure we are as ambitious in building these skills as we are in the academic outcomes we seek?

There are a growing number of schools across the country who are applying the same thoughtfulness and commitment to building these skills as they do the skills we have always been comfortable building in school: numeracy and literacy.

In doing so, they are also helping to achieve the Gatsby Benchmarks – above all Benchmark 4 of linking curriculum learning with careers. Because these skills provide that vital link.

Schools who are really excelling here start by being absolutely clear on what the skills are and making them as tangible as possible

Step 1: Agree what the key employability skills are

Schools who are really excelling here start by being absolutely clear on what the skills are and making them as tangible as possible. They avoid the trap of confusing character traits with skills.

The 350 Skills Builder Schools focus on eight employability skills consistently:

  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Listening
  • Presenting
  • Aiming high
  • Staying positive.

This simple language can be understood by students, parents, teachers and employer partners alike.

Step 2: Break skills learning down into chunks

We see schools excelling in this area being deliberate in how these are built. For example, in building teamwork, the Skills Builder Framework helps to identify exactly what the component parts are and teach and practice each in turn. That might mean taking it in turns when children are five years-old. But, over time, adding in additional nuggets of learning in a logical sequence like how to encourage contributions from others in groups, how to resolve conflicts and how to evaluate team success.

This approach builds on the research on how skills are mastered in a diverse range of arenas. Whether it is playing music, athletic achievement or even becoming a London taxi driver, it is this continued focus and deliberate practice that makes the difference.

Step 3: Measure skills learning for progress in line with Gatsby Benchmark 8

As well as the clarity of what exactly is being taught, the best schools also measure the skills using the Skills Builder Framework, so teachers know exactly what students can and can’t do.

This is critical for allowing teaching to be focused on the stretch zone for students, avoiding wasted effort.

This also supports Benchmark 8 – ensuring that there is personal guidance for students, as a detailed nuanced understanding of a student’s skills is vital here.

Step 4: Teach skills directly and then practice

Form period learning sessions

Although the curriculum is tight, we see schools who are use punchy 10 minute sessions to teach elements of the skills directly – for example, in form periods.

Extra-curricular activities

This is reinforced by finding opportunities to deploy and practice the skills in many other settings. These might be extra-curricular, or at appropriate points in other lessons.

Engaging with parents

Some schools go even further, engaging parents with this element of their children’s learning – there is a skill of the month, and newsletters suggest activities parents might do with their children to reinforce those skills at home.

Step 5: Bring skills learning to life

Finally though, these skills also support Benchmarks 5 & 7, giving links to employers and further and higher education. This is critical because these skills cannot be mastered in isolation.

A core part of successful approaches to building these skills always includes engaging the wider world. For example, UBS bank frequently invites groups of students from Skills Builder Schools in to see how these same skills are deployed in their business – as do 130 other employers as diverse as NHS hospitals, airports, building sites, and law firms.

The shared focus on essential skills gives an easy common language and shared outcomes for everyone involved – and help to ensure that these experiences are linked together.

There are now over 350 schools across the country embracing the teaching of these eight essential life and work skills.

In doing so, they not only equip their young people with the information and guidance to make the right career choices – but the essential skills to thrive in whatever they choose to pursue too.


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