A Different Baccalaureate Option For Soft Skills.

I have been spending a few days thinking about my next blog and in the meantime I have had the opportunity to do some research into the different educational skills qualifications that exist within the UK. II would like to share one of them with you.

This is what I know about a baccalaureate that includes soft skills & personal effectiveness learning. Let me start by clearing one thing up. People have commented that my blogs may be blinkered and only talk about skills learning at the expense of academic learning. This is not true, in fact I think that academic learning is very important as young people need technical skills and knowledge for specific careers. Some young people may need more of a focus on soft skills based on their own personal learning circumstances. My focus however is on promoting soft skills to be taught as part of a balanced curriculum for the ALL young people.

This brings me to the Welsh Baccalaureate (WB) for first teaching in 2015. I am sure that all Welsh teaching colleagues will know and be working towards this as I write. The more I think about it, the more I think that the WB is a really creative and progressive move to cater for the needs of ALL learners, employers and further/higher education providers.

WelshBacc

This is why the Welsh Government wanted to make the change; “We are building a qualifications system that helps prepare young people for further learning and the world of work by developing and testing the knowledge, skills and qualities higher education institutions and employers want.” The key thing here is that the Welsh Government wanted young people to achieve the ‘skills and qualities needed’; therefore academic and skills based! The qualification is at three levels to cover Key Stage 4 and Post 16.

For the purpose of this blog; can we agree that young people need soft skills? If we can, then the WB is designed to strike a balance between the need for an academic education and the need for skills learning (see diagram). The WB gives the opportunity for all students to gain English, Maths and 3 other qualifications of a vocational or more academic nature. This would suit the needs of ALL learners. We then move on to the Skills Challenge Certificate. This is a significant part of the WB that creates the opportunity for skills based learning on the 4 areas as can be seen in the diagram. These areas are based around “applying skills learning to real world scenarios” (Welsh Government, 2014) via a plan, do, review process:

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Digital Literacy
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Planning and Organisation
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Personal Effectiveness

What makes very interesting reading is the idea of ‘personal effectiveness’ which is a qualification provided by ASDAN recently branded as ‘worthless’ by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan. She has even suggested that she would ‘make it illegal for any school to use public funds to carry on with a qualification about Personal Effectiveness’. I find this very sad for all the young people in England. They will not even be allowed to have the choice of studying a valuable qualification like this.

The WB is also recognised by universities in the UK and this quote further adds fuel to the argument that the Education secretary is not listening; “The WB will develop and assess the skills that universities tell us young people need for learning, work and life” (Welsh Government, 2014).

I hope you can see therefore that this works well for young people?

One final thought; and I don’t mind admitting to the promoting of a certain awarding body with a charitable status. If learners have to develop these skills then there are programmes that could be used in Key Stage 3 to prepare them. There are Welsh schools using ‘The Key Steps Award’ provided by ASDAN which offers national accreditation for lower level learning but follows the same plan, do and review process around the same key areas as the WB. Schools have identified this as a great building block towards the new WB.

This is therefore what I believe makes a good blueprint for how skills and academic learning can work together. I would like to see a future Education Secretary be a bit more creative and allow soft skills/personal effectiveness qualifications that cater for the needs of ALL learners, employers and further/higher education.

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75% Soft Skills, 25% Technical/Hard Skills – The Modern School Leader?

Thinking Holistically In Skills

softskills

‘Studies have shown that 75% of long-term success depends on soft skills and 25% depends on technical/hard skills. For effective performance in the workplace, companies need their employees to have not only field knowledge, technical and analytical skills, but also the skills to deal with the external world of clients, customers, vendors, the government and public; and to work in a collaborative manner with their colleagues’. – Training Magazine Middle East, Jan 18th 2015.

This is a quote from an article discussing #SoftSkills in the modern world. The article discusses the fact that students come out of school, college or university ‘preloaded’ with the technical skills required but many cannot operate effectively in the marketplace as they do not have the interpersonal skills (or soft skills) required. Indeed the article suggests that people in leadership positions mainly gain these roles due to the exceptional soft skills that they have/display.

This is what I have known for the last 10 years as highlighted in a previous blog.

Reading this article resonated with me further in education. I believe that some senior leaders in educational settings do not have these interpersonal skills required to be effective in their positions. Is this the reason why many schools are ineffective or ‘require special measures’ as judged by Ofsted?

Just to digress and discuss Ofsted for one moment; The Secret Teacher (See link) – http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jan/24/secret-teacher-ofsted-rules?CMP=share_btn_tw – wrote this brilliant article asking for the real set of rules that Ofsted go by. This column in the Guardian brings into question the approach Ofsted use when inspecting. I can say from bitter experience that Ofsted do seem to inspect with pre-conceived ideas or a hypothesis based on data and desk research. I personally do not believe this is an appropriate approach as it breeds pressure and makes them unable to be the supportive organisation they should be.

However back to soft skills; If educational establishments have to continue to meet the ever changing needs of government policy and our friends at Ofsted then strong leadership is required with the exceptional use of soft skills. I have seen many examples of great leadership throughout my career and also some examples of really poor leadership. Firstly a leader must have a great vision and a strong ‘team’ strategy to meet that vision. In doing this they will have to have a strong ‘character’ and show true ‘resilience’ and not to be wavered from that vision when things do not go so well. Lets face it that is bound to happen at some stage or other. The vision of course has to have the learners that they serve at the center of that vision.

I have mentioned two of the government buzz words of the moment which are the soft skills known as character and resilience. I also mentioned the word ‘team’ and in this situation I mean to be the leader of a staff team of highly trained professionals. @headguruteacher has recently written a great blog called ‘Developing our in-house system for improving teaching’ (See link) – http://t.co/F0O43cJbpB – showing one way how he is leading a strategy which involves leading his staff in a teamwork approach to continually improve learning in his school.

Not only is he displaying excellent soft skills himself but is also promoting excellent teamwork soft skills from within his team. This could not be delivered without the SLT and larger staff group also showing good ‘communication’ skills while working with each other and developing community trust. From what I have read in this article I believe that this would be the type of educational organisation that teachers would want to work in. Unfortunately though some members of the teaching profession do not work in an organisation where trust and team work are high on the agenda.

This is what I do know; Some educational colleagues are fighting hard on a daily basis being constantly monitored for one slip – a bad lesson or a bad data trawl perhaps? Then and very quickly being put onto the dreaded ‘support plan’! This therefore shows an ineffective leader without the ability to build teams in an educational setting. The support plan has to be a very last option and not a stick that is used to beat people with as a quick fix. It also does not promote a good team spirit for long term success.

I would therefore appeal to all leaders in schools and colleges to spend some time developing soft skills just like the ones @headguruteacher is arguably using effectively in his strategy. If that was a focus then maybe all schools would continue have better and better examination results? Colleagues would also be working together in a collegiate way and enjoying their jobs and then moreover ‘long term success‘ would be achieved for all students?

Soft Skills In Your Lesson

Thinking Holistically In Skills

SoftSkills

This is what I know about how and why to include #SoftSkills in subject learning to enhance the future careers of young people. To deliver soft skills in your lesson, read on…

The following qualities are from different business specialists and writers who have identified these key requirements;

Trilling & Fadel, 21st Century Skills, 2012: in explaining skills for the future; 1) Learning and innovation skills <critical thinking, problem solving, communications, collaboration, creativity, innovation.> 2) Digital literacy skills <information literacy, media literacy, ICT literacy.> 3) Career and life skills <flexibility, adaptability, Initiative, self-direction, social and cross-cultural interaction, productivity, accountability, leadership, responsibility.>

Forbes, 2014: 1) Ability to work in a team. 2) Ability to make decisions and solve problems. 3) Ability to plan, organise and prioritise work. 4) Ability to communicate verbally with a wide range of people. 5) Ability to obtain and process information.

James Caan, January 2015: 1) Communication. 2) Teamwork, 3) Decision making. 4) Taking responsibility 5) Time management.

Using the soft skills identified by others I will now explain how these could be delivered in GCSE/A-level learning. I am an experienced and successful Business Studies teacher and this is an idea for teaching and learning using a soft skills approach in an examined subject.

Business Studies: The examined element is Stakeholders. The group are given a situation; ‘A new road is to be built through a village linking two nearby towns’. The class is split into several groups of stakeholders (depending on class size). Each stakeholder group works together on their argument which will be discussed at a town planning meeting (teamwork). They will need to research (ability to obtain and process information) and decide (decision making) on their best argument. Stakeholder groups could include local residents, environmentalists, local business, banks, local builders etc. The next week or lesson the group has their town planning meeting, probably chaired by the teacher but it could be a student who has shown good leadership qualities previously. This will act as differentiation strategy for the more talented student to challenge their leadership skills further. The students will take on the role of their stakeholder interest (take responsibility). During this meeting students start to understand the role of different stakeholders and the importance of appropriate communication (ability to communicate verbally with a wide range of people). The final week, or lesson (could even be done at the end of the meeting based on time), decisions are made based on arguments brought to the table about whether the road should be built. To add in assessment, students could peer assess each others contribution to the task based on characteristics displayed against a specific skill/s. A scale could be developed by the teacher (which could be used over and over again) to help students make peer assessed constructive comments about each other. The great thing about this strategy is that students gain an in-depth understanding of the specific element for the exam and improve their Soft Skills through a real world activity. The young people also really enjoy this activity!

This could quite easily be transferred into other subjects. For example in English for a debate where students have to argue a different view point. A fellow educational writer, who is also a champion for soft skills, has written a brilliant piece on this http://www.innovatemyschool.com/industry-expert-articles/item/1230-softies-of-the-world-unite-the-importance-of-soft-subjects.html explaining the value of ‘transferable skills’ in drama and how the teaching of soft skills help the learner to get ahead in employment.

This is what I know about adding value for your students. The awarding body ASDAN Education – http://www.asdan.org.uk – provide qualifications that are suited to work alongside other GCSE and A-level subjects e.g. CoPE, AoPE or Wider Key Skills. These qualifications are not recognised on school league tables but do contribute to UCAS points for the learner as well as gaining them a national qualification recognised by employers. As a teacher and Assistant Head this is exactly what I did when teaching my GCSE groups. I had consistently high GCSE success in Business Studies with 75-100% A*-C GCSE year on year (above the national average) but better than that I pride myself on the fact that very few students failed to achieve their aspirational target grade.

This final thought; When we talk about adding value, way above achieving examination success, I know that I was helping the students to gain the transferable soft skills that I knew would increase their chances of success in gaining future employment or a career of their choice.

Make that choice and deliver soft skills as part of the learning that takes place in your subject.

Is education set up in this country to let our young people down?

Thinking Holistically In Skills

This is where I am regarding education today for our young people. I posed this question in my last blog and started to answer it. I suggested that “education is not helping young people develop soft skills (#SoftSkills) which are much needed in the workplace“. I would like to take the opportunity in this blog to explore this theory further.

Firstly a quote from President Barack Obama (10th March, 2009) “I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity“. This was said in a speech promoting ‘a complete and competitive American education’ in order to keep pace with the worlds top performing educational systems. He is suggesting that not only do young people need to have a sound knowledge base but also the skills to adapt and be creative in an ever changing world. This will in turn help the USA’s economic development. Within this speech he presses home the point of young people staying in education to develop these skills.

At the start of 2015 this issue is again highlighted, but this time in the UK by research and a subsequent consultation led by McDonald’s and supported by Businessman and Entrepreneur, James Caan. The research suggesting that the lack of skills in young people is costing the economy around £88 billion. So why is it that very nearly 6 years on from the President of the USA suggesting that their education system needs to make changes to include skills, do UK business leaders find themselves raising the same rallying call? The main problem we have in this country is that we have created a system which apparently needs to be ‘academic and rigorous’. I would agree with this but not at the expense of soft skills which seem to have been forgotten about and very much downgraded. Indeed Nicky Morgan, MP (19th December 2014, Daily Mail) was quoted as saying that having qualifications based on Personal Effectiveness (which are primarily soft skills) was “frankly ridiculous“. I would challenge that! I would ask where are these personal effectiveness/soft skills skills being learnt then if not in these qualifications? If they are being learnt throughout academic courses then that is fine. I am, however, struggling to find the evidence of this!

To return to the initial question; ‘Is education set up in this country to let our young people down’? Frankly ‘yes’ we are letting our young people down based on this evidence. The current government have set up a system where an academically rigorous test/exam score is the only thing that is important. Couple this with on-going data collections and constant re-testing for this purpose makes it all very dull and lacking in creativity (Incidentally ‘creativity’ is a soft skill treasured by business leaders). When a child is educated from secondary education on-wards they are completing a one/two or three year course in which the only assessment they receive is an exam with an element of controlled assessment. ‘Controlled’ being the key word. It is more like an examined project which again eliminates creativity in my opinion.

To take this argument further, and I challenge anyone to respond with examples if you can give me them; When in your job role do you sit in lines, at a desk on your own, and work in silence for 1 or 2 hours? Do you do this in order to tick a box on your yearly review? Perhaps you do this when asked to complete some daily or weekly task? I think that most of you would come back with the answer ‘No’. So why do we ask our young people to do this over and over again throughout their education. Surely there has to be a better way of assessing? I will answer the question in another blog about how I think assessment of skills can be done. The point is though that we have built/are building a knowledge only style education. While knowledge is important it is only one part of what young people need. As a footnote to this point, ‘knowledge’ is lower level learning on the educationally revered Blooms taxonomy!

Trilling and Fadel (2012) identified 3 areas for skills development in their book, ’21st Century Skills’. They are; Learning and Innovation Skills, Digital Literacy Skills & Career and Life Skills. I will talk more about what these skills mean in future blogs but not one of these involve taking tests/exams and doing tasks during learning to hammer home key facts and knowledge. They do talk about ‘high levels of learning challenge‘ though. So maybe, just maybe, it is possible to incorporate skills into what is seen as academic learning?

So again I come to the conclusion that skills needed for the work place/employment are not being taught to our young people. My next blog will look at skills that are required by employers and I will also attempt to explain how I used to help young people develop skills while working towards and exam.

My final thought about what I know about This Education and about the question raised at the start of this blog. I was recently debating skills based learning and personal effectiveness with an ex-colleague who’s opinions I genuinely have the greatest respect for. Their suggestion was that “The ‘skills’ they teach can be picked up in a week or two on the job”. I will link this point to another raised by James Caan last week. He said that he would recruit, on interview, a person with good soft skills over someone with a degree if they did not have those qualities. Therefore the question I would respond with is; How does a young person get that job in the first place without being taught #SoftSkills?

My First Skills Based Education Blog – Why am I doing this?

Thinking Holistically In Skills

Well this is my first attempt at a blog. I have been meaning to do this for some time but I have not quite found the time to write my thoughts down.

Why skills based education?

If you have read my bio you will have seen that I have had the opportunity to work in recruiting Graduates to a Management Trainee Programme. When I interviewed many of these prospective employees it was apparent within the first couple of minutes of the interview that they did not have what it takes. Although they were infinitely more intelligent than I could ever hope to be, they lacked the most important thing which was basic skills. Over the last 10 years since this became apparent to me I have heard many different ways of naming these skills including, Employability Skills, Work Skills, Human Skills and possibly even Life Skills. To me though Life Skills means something slightly different which I will concentrate on in another blog. ‘Soft Skills’ (#SoftSkills) is the buzz name for this educational need at the moment.

The lack of these soft skills in young people is what made me give up my job in business and become a teacher. That is where I want to make a difference. I am now working for ASDAN Education (@Asdandeducation) who are a national awarding body providing skills based learning programmes, curriculum’s and qualifications. I work as a National Development Co-ordinator which means that I get the opportunity to work with education providers to deliver skills based learning to young people. My ideal Job!

Why are ‘Soft Skills’ important?

This week Entrepreneur and Businessman James Caan has thrown his backing behind a campaign and consultation led by McDonald’s, and supported by the CBI, on #SoftSkills. James Caan followed this up in his blog where he identified the following skills that he looks for when appointing new employees. They are; communication, teamwork, decision making, taking responsibility and time management. He also said in a Radio 4 interview that he would take on an employee with good soft skills over someone with a degree. I am sure that if someone had a degree and soft skills they would be a preference over someone without a degree but it does raise an interesting question. Is education set up in this country to let our young people down? Going back to what I said earlier in this blog, and due to James Caan’s comment, this leads me to believe that education is not helping young people develop soft skills which are much needed in the workplace.

This is what I know therefore about why a skills based education is important to the young people in this country. This is why I will be using this blog and my position at ASDAN to spread the positive message about skills based learning opportunities.

Please check out my next blog where I will be looking to give more explanation to the question raised in this blog; Is education set up in this country to let our young people down?