An essential skills MOT

An essential skills MOT
Date28th Jan 2024AuthorWalter KerrCategoriesStudent Life

At this year’s curriculum conference, the Sixth Form Colleges Association invited Oppidan to lead a roundtable with college leaders to discuss the merits of and assessment criteria around “Essential Skills”. Developed by the teams at Skills Builder Partnership alongside the Careers & Enterprise Company, these eight essential skills provide a universal framework which define the skills needed to succeed in education and in work. 

A missing piece in the UK’s productivity puzzle,1 the development of essential skills before university demonstrably changes a young person’s outcomes. Lower levels of essential skills contribute towards a £4.6K lower first-year salary for graduates, whilst across 11-18 settings, teacher voice is clear that there is not enough support to develop these work-related skills39% of state-school students have not taken part in any careers related activities,2 whilst 37% of state-school senior leaders report not having enough funding for careers guidance.

Reflecting on the conversation around the table, leaders shared a desire to give curriculum time to developing student essential skills: “transferable skills which almost everyone needs to do almost any job, which support the application of technical skills and knowledge”were universally seen as important in the development of young people.

The Ofsted skills agenda – teaching skills that qualify young people for specific industries – outlines the government’s focus on making sure young people can contribute to the skills needs of local employers. Ofsted are clear in their commitment to developing skills necessary to ensure progress towards employment; what is not always clear is the extent to which government policy sees essential skills like good communication, problem-solving, and critical analysis as part of this. Where the Skills Builder framework and Oppidan’s work comes in is addressing this central tenet in students’ employment toolkit, with employers seeing essential skills as just as (if not more) important than technical skills. 

A key part in our discussion therefore looked at just that: how can you track these skills over time? A starting point focused on an assessment model Oppidan is looking to build and develop with its partner schools and colleges: an ‘essential Skills MOT’ to assess objectively and then showcase a student’s comparative strengths and weaknesses, alongside a framework showing how they can develop them going forward. Through 1:1 sessions and group workshops, the aim is to give each student the opportunity to demonstrate these skills – “aiming high”, or “creativity”, for example. The facilitator is able, in theory, to capture an individual’s essential skills level and then provide a next-step plan for them to develop in and outside the classroom. Questions remain about the objectivity measurement given that it’s human-delivered: observation is indeed subjective and that presents the greatest challenge. 

Across each of the four roundtables we led, discussion centred on the relative importance employers place on these skills, the idea being of course that the less buy-in there is from the jobs market, the less relevance these skills have in the curriculum. The evidence however is strong: 92% of workers believe that soft skills are important for success within their career. That is on par with literacy skills and ranks higher than sector specific knowledge (84%), digital skills (84%), numeracy skills (82%) or technical skills (65%).3

The recent Oxford Character Education report on Good Leadership in Business is one of the strongest indicators of the indicative employer need for these skills. The three dimensions of good leadership reported include character, competence, and interpersonal skills; 52% of features relate to character, 35% to interpersonal skills, 13% to professional competence. Of the top 5 reported qualities of good leadership, communication skills ranked second.4

Though unanimously supported, there was less agreement in our discussions on the question of where particularly the teaching of essential skills had its place; whilst some argue they should be standalone elements outside curriculum time, others believe the development of these skills has its place within the curriculum, rather than adjacent to it. 

Wherever its place, college leaders agreed that the teaching of essential skills must be deliberate and constantly evolving, in line with the Jubilee Centre’s suggestion that helping young people to develop positive personal strengths must be explicit. We believe taking a deliberate approach to measuring a student’s essential skills is progress towards flourishing: a greater self-awareness engenders greater commitment towards more positive outcomes. At Oppidan, the message is clear; we want to be successful and happy people. That can only be the case if we know ourselves better, and this is what our mentors enable students to do through the work we do. 


Walter is co-founder of Oppidan Education.







Similar Articles

of 17
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now