Should we reward 'soft skills' in our schools?

Published date: 13 February 2014 |
Published by: Rhian Waller 
Read more articles by Rhian Waller  Email reporter


DOES your child struggle at school despite trying their hardest?

A new idea – floated by the All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) this week – could see future secondary school pupils excel at school simply for trying.

The theory is so-called ‘soft skills’ – like resilience, diligence and perseverance – should be recognised in some form of classroom evaluation.

In a report issued on Tuesday, the APPG, fearing “first thoughts often turn exclusively to exam results and academic achievement”, summed this up with the motto “character counts”.

It went on: “These more intangible skills of sticking at it, not accepting second best, empathy and teamwork are precisely what they (employers) are looking for.”

The same report recommended it should be made mandatory for every teacher to get involved with extra-curricular activities.

So do pupils really need a piece of paper to prove they are hard workers? And will making teachers take on extra-curricular duties undermine the whole point of working beyond the curriculum?

Ashley Jones, headteacher of Alun School in Mold, could see both benefits and problems with the idea.

He said: “At the moment, the Welsh Baccalaureate includes accreditation for skills such as evaluating your own performance and working together.

“Likewise, when youngsters leave mandatory education aged 16, there are certificates that schools make available to pupils which records aspects such as good attendance and punctuality.

“There’s also an element of determination and attention involved when a pupil sits a conventional GCSE. Taking all these together, I don’t necessarily believe ‘soft skills’ are missing a form of evaluation at the moment.”

It would be interesting to see how the APPG’s ideas would be implemented if adopted in Wales, where the Welsh Government has control over education.

Mr Jones said: “You run up against the question of how pupils will be evaluated fairly and how you can quantify these skills. However, I’m a great believer in the idea of educating the whole person, not just educating for exams and therefore there may be merit in exploring such a model.”

He was cautious about the idea of making extra-curricular activities part of the teacher’s job description.

He said: “If we have a teacher who is wonderful and inspirational when teaching their subject, then it would be a shame to take the time of that teacher and use it for something they may not necessarily be skilled at or enthused to do.

“Additionally, extra-curricular is by definition beyond the curriculum and therefore making it compulsory brings it within the curriculum, which perhaps brings the whole concept of curriculum into question.”.

Teacher Lil Wills, 34, originally of Mold and a former Hawarden High School pupil, was more critical of the soft skills proposal.

She said: “All of this stuff makes me mad, as if we don’t do this already. I’m forever giving out merits, kids get certificates for all kinds of achievements and our pastoral care is excellent. Kids can get recognised with awards for doing more vocational stuff already.

“We do revision sessions after school free of charge for those who ask. Tutors will charge upwards of £20-an-hour for private tuition and they get it free because we care.”

Mrs Wills pointed out many schools will run extra-curricular activities – her’s runs drama, dance, board games, fitness and more.

“It’s about time more emphasis is put on parenting skills,” she said. “There is only so much a teacher can do.”

Jane Stacey, 28, originally from Mold, now teaches in Manchester.

She said: “I think it’s all a bit unfair really. We, as teachers, are hammered to achieve exam results which will soon affect our pay.  It means we spoonfeed our children as we don't have the room to ‘risk’ helping them to become independent in case they aren’t up to the challenge and fail.

“Then people are horrified when young people don’t have skills in perseverance and determination.”

In contrast, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, broadly supported the idea, but sympathised with teachers’ already heavy workloads.

She said: “It remains the case, however, that the present curriculum and high stakes testing are far too rigid. The focus on judging a school’s success or otherwise by exam and test results has the effect of reducing the breadth of young people’s experiences.

“The personal development of pupils is very important. This will not be achieved unless the obsession with testing and targets ends. Schools must be so much more than exam factories.”

l What do you think? Email with your opinion.

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