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Transforming Essential Skills Together

How should we best prepare students for the world's multifarious opportunities? Tom Ravenscroft, of the Skills Builder Partnership, has suggestions

If we think about our own lives and careers, we can pinpoint skills that support success across industries: the ability to communicate, to solve problems creatively, to manage our own goals and motivations, and to work effectively with other people. Surely, our education system should be preparing students to be adaptable and proficient in these highly transferable areas.

As a secondary Business Studies teacher I could see the evidence right in front of my eyes: my students – bright and full of potential as they were – struggled to absorb information and weren’t at all confident sharing their own ideas. Having to come up with solutions to unstructured problems would overwhelm them. Perhaps most concerning was how easily they got frustrated when things went wrong, which happened frequently during group work because they had no strategies for making the most of everyone’s talents and keeping people on track.

Starting to suspect that something was going seriously wrong, I talked to many colleagues in education and the wider world of business. Surely these gaps in competence would have largely filled themselves through life experience by the time they left school? I was dismayed to find a similar story in every sector. Teachers of all ages found these skills lacking and, according to recent research from the Sutton Trust, 97% view essential skills as of equal or greater value than academic qualifications. At college and university, too, young people struggle without structure – to the extent that one in 12 freshers from a low-income background drop out. In particular, employers repeatedly lament that, while they prioritise these skills when hiring, 50% cannot find applicants that demonstrate them adequately.

So, in 2009, I and a small group of passionate teachers set up Enabling Enterprise, with the goal of ensuring every student develops the essential skills they need to thrive in the classroom and beyond. We defined eight skills, covering both sides of four key areas: listening and presenting, creativity and problem solving, aiming high and staying positive, and leadership and teamwork.

Over the last eight years our reach has grown rapidly, and our passion with it. We worked with more than 105,000 students in the last year alone, in 350 fantastic schools across the whole country. We’ve developed connections with over 130 employers from NHS hospitals to airports to accountancies, so they can link with local schools and host inspiring workplace visits, allowing students to build their essential skills in a real-world setting.

But we’ve come to realise that to truly achieve our goal of empowering all learners with essential skills, everyone who works with children and young people needs to be on the same page. To that end, over the last 18 months we’ve been working closely with more than 60 industry experts, including a host of youth organisations that already build skills in their extra-curricular programmes, from the National Literacy Trust and the London Symphony Orchestra to leading education innovator Apps for Good.

Working together, we’ve refined those eight skills into the Skills Builder Framework, which breaks down each skill into teachable and measurable chunks. This is a huge development for educators both in school and outside it who are passionate about building essential skills, but are understandably frustrated by the lack of rigour in their development. The shared language and expectations allow them to build essential skills with students from the age of three right up until 18 – and, crucially, assess them consistently.

Our resources all build off the Framework, from our multi-session classroom projects and whole-school Challenge Days to our detailed handbooks that offer techniques and advice for teaching the skills at each level.

In the culmination of half a decade of work, we were delighted to officially launch the Skills Builder Partnership on the 4th of May this year – a coalition of schools, teachers, employers and youth organisations dedicated to building learners’ essential skills together. There has been enormous support and enthusiasm from every corner, and the Framework is now being used in over 500 settings, with more partners joining our movement every week.

This is a very exciting time. Working together, we have the opportunity to effect real change, to fill the gaping hole in our education system – and ensure building these essential skills becomes a normal part of a great education. We hope you will join us.

Tom Ravenscroft is Founder & CEO of Enabling Enterprise and the Skills Builder Partnership. 

The Skills Builder Partnership consists of over 60 leading skills-building organisations, as well as 130 employers and 330 schools, who have come together to develop a comprehensive approach to ensure every students builds eight essential skills. The Skills Builder Framework is designed to break down these skills into teachable chunks, setting age-related expectations and allowing assessment of progress. You can find lots of tools and resources to support implementing these principles through