Comments about the importance of work place skills from the new Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, in his speech at the Education World Forum in London, are entirely welcome. The government’s focus on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and its narrow academic curriculum has all but relegated so-called ‘soft skills’ such as communication, team-working and problem-solving and the subjects which are best suited to enabling students to developing them.
So for those of us who recognise the value of what perhaps should be called ‘core skills’, Mr Hinds’ seeming appreciation of the role they play in preparing young people for the world of work is heartening. At Edge, what we clearly want to see is an indication from Mr Hinds and his team that they are prepared to make a policy shift towards a realpolitik that will actually deliver in the classroom.
In our 2016 report, The Digital Revolution, we considered the impact of digitisation and the accelerating pace of technology on the jobs market. Our conclusions were clear. More opportunities for students to develop digital skills starting in primary schools; more flexibility in the curriculum to enable students to take a GCSE in Computer Science or Design and Technology perhaps instead of a foreign language; technical streams and young apprenticeships at 14 for those young people who have found their talent and want to progress and room in the curriculum for work experience and project-based learning for students to acquire those critical ‘core skills’.
There are schools, such as the excellent School 21 in Stratford, who not only embed these core skills across all subject areas, but create room in the curriculum to ensure all their students have real-world experience in the workplace. Their ‘oracy’ programme is designed to equip all their students with the broadest vocabulary, fluency and confidence that will not only set them up in the corporate interview room, but in all aspects of their life.
In today’s report from the Education Endowment Foundation, Closing the Attainment Gap, one of the key findings predicts there is likely to be no closure of the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged and most privileged students over the next five years. Across Progress 8 the gap is even set to increase a little.
While education cannot provide a panacea for inequality and poverty in society, schools can, and do, do an excellent job in raising their students’ aspirations, broadening their experience and augmenting the lack of the social capital of the poorest. Leaving school with a clutch of GCSEs is part of it, but we will always fail the most disadvantaged if that is all we equip them with.
Edge’s report Our Plan for 14-19 Education makes the case for a holistic baccalaureate to include those essential core qualifications, but also ensure all young people enter the work place with the essential skills for life.