Is Education Letting Young People Down (Updated)?

THIS is an update on a blog I originally posted in January.  I am proud to say that this updated blog was first posted by who asked if I would write a blog for their organisation. This version has links to the specific blogs that may offer further advice for teachers on skills based learning in the classroom.

My own feeling is that education is not helping young people develop soft skills (or transferable skills) which are much needed in the workplace. I would like to take the opportunity in this blog to explore this thought 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 world’s 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 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!

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 then learning becomes 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 have attempted to answer this question about how to assess skills within two other blogs. Does Passing Traditional Exams Make You A Success in Life and A Different Baccalaureate Option For Soft Skills.

The point is though that we have built/are building a knowledge only style education system. 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. 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. Maybe, just maybe, then 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. I have written a few blogs where I have looked at how skills based education can be delivered in an academic setting. I know these work as this is what I used to do. Please see my more recent blogs on Soft Skills In your lesson and Developing Character, Grit & Resilience In The Classroom for examples of how these skills can be taught in schools and colleges.

My final thought about what I know about THIS Education and about the statement I 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 “Soft Skills can be picked up in a week or two on the job”. I will link this point to another raised by James Caan. 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 these skills?


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