From the front line of teaching, Tom Ravenscroft asked what it would take to build essential employability skills with the same rigour as we apply to literacy and numeracy.
I read my first CBI Education and Skills survey a decade ago, while on the front line of teaching in a challenging secondary school in Hackney. I remember it vividly because it brought into sharp focus the dissonance that I felt in my own classroom.
I worried about the students in front of me who, at the age of 14 or 15, still struggled to complete simple collaborative tasks, or organise themselves to meet coursework deadlines, and they were highly reluctant to contribute their ideas in class. I couldn’t understand why, as an education system, we were putting all our energies solely into nudging up students’ grades.
The survey made the gap stark: employers were concerned that school and college leavers were missing vital skills such as teamwork, self-management and the ability to solve problems. But the revelation that these skills and aptitudes were ranked as much more important by employers than individual grades was equally important.
So, I looked around my classroom and asked myself the question – what would it take to build these essential employability skills with the same rigour as we apply to other academic learning?
From distilling the literature out there we focused on eight skills: teamwork; leadership; listening; presenting; creativity; problem-solving; aiming high; and staying positive. These are the skills that are consistently called for by employers, but also entrepreneurs, colleges and universities. And, crucially, they also unlock learning in the classroom.
Over the last eight years, Enabling Enterprise (the social enterprise that I set up to drive this approach) has grown from my own classroom to working with more than 85,000 students in the last year alone. Schools across the country are thinking about these eight skills in the same way we focus on and build literacy and numeracy.
That means following some core principles: we start young, with students as young as 3 years-old and we keep going throughout students’ time in school. We measure the skills with the rigour of reading ages. We ensure that there is dedicated time to build those skills in focused bursts, and that they are then practiced across school life.
Employers are critical
Coming full circle though, we realised that these skills are only as useful as they are transferable. Building mastery in the classroom is helpful for learning in the classroom, but we’ve seen that we have to bring these skills to life if we want them to be a real foundation of success for our children and young people.
That’s why it’s been brilliant to work with more than 130 employer partners, many of whom are CBI members. From accountancy firms to airports and banks to building sites, it is taking students out of the classroom and into the world of work that makes the skills relevant.
Equipping every young person
The upshot of all of this work is a measurable transformation in the essential skills of the children and young people we work with. Our skills assessment framework has reflected exactly the skills deficit identified by the CBI survey – that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are, on average, three years behind where they need to be in terms of their skills development against employers’ expectations. But they also show that these gaps can be closed by explicitly, rigorously, and consistently building these eight essential skills.
These skills are the missing piece in education – but with employers and schools working together, this is an imminently fixable problem. And we will all be better off for fixing it.
Tom Ravenscroft is Founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, an award-winning social enterprise working with schools across the country to build the essential skills of 3- to 18-year-olds. His first book, entitled ‘The Missing Piece: The Essential Skills that Education Forgot’ was published by John Catt Educational Publishing in October.
You can find out more about the tools and resources mentioned in the blog at www.TheEssentialSkills.org
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