Here’s an article I wrote for the TES this week.
In this article, Bernie will highlight how teachers can help the young people they teach, mentor and support to find the skills, attitudes and purpose that will bring them future success and happiness.
In my experience asking a British teen from 13 to 16 what they’re good at will get you an answer anywhere between an exaggerated shrug, an “I dunno, football?” through to a full on, sitting back, legs outstretched, arms-folded ‘ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” with a cheeky yet embarrassed grin. After years of being told to be quiet or to stop showing off, we generally don’t know how to express pride in our skills or characteristics in the UK. And this is a problem.
In and of itself, being unable to express ourselves fully isn’t that bad (and some of it will be peer-induced embarrassment) until we get to that point of decision at 16 we begin to be required to share our skills, our abilities and our personalities on applications for college, sixth forms, apprenticeships or part-time work.
The problem is that the majority of us haven’t been learning the script, practicing the lines or shaking the Jazz Hands sparklingly enough to show someone in authority how we measure up to the criteria for the course or role we want to fulfil. Like the dates in History, the elements in Chemistry or the quotes in Shakespeare how we understand our own skills and abilities, how we write about ourselves in applications etc and express ourselves face-to-face improves best with regular practice.
At 18 and beyond the stakes get higher as work or university, self-employment or internships beckon – tasks which will be made more complicated and pressured from now on due to the effects of Covid-19 and Brexit on the UK employment market. Young people are already being disproportionately hit by unemploymentand this is set to rise in the coming months.
So what can schools do to help young people navigate the future and their self-reflection more positively (but without a huge amount of extra work from teachers)?:
What are my skills?
By developing a structured understanding of the skills that will be useful in the future, regardless of what their role will be, and regularly measuring those skills young people will be in a better place to explain them. One of the tools I’ve used for some time and included in my book The Ladder is my 7 Skills Assessment Sheet (7SAS) which simply asks students to rank their skills against the 7 skills the future demands from Dr Tony Wagner. Including elements such as collaboration & leading with influence, adaptability and initiative & entrepreneurship the tool simply highlights competences and areas for improvement. If done once a term or year in PSHE or Careers lessons, students’ habits and self-awareness will grow which will have the added benefit of improving confidence.
How can I share my skills?
Applications and interviews all require us to be able to share our skills and experiences in writing and then verbally, instead of a list of ‘things I’ve done’ or rambling abstract paragraphs it’s better to encourage storytelling. The STAR model enables simple story capsules to be built which can be prepared in advance and put in a student’s metaphorical back pocket for use when needed.
The Situation, Task, Action and Result of an event can be a great way to display multiple skills: ‘three of us had been selected for a debating competition at a local college against seven other schools. After getting through the first round, my team-mate had a panic attack and had to leave the stage. I took their notes and although we didn’t win the next debate we reached the semi-finals”. Concisely and in a memorable format, the student displays their debating skills, compassion, teamwork, confidence and humility.
Why not institute a STAR Of The Week on one day a week so one of the class can explain a recent event and reinforce the skills and public expression?
Where can I apply my skills?
Sadly this can sometimes depend on where you live, your background, your upbringing and your family’s resources. How many students are being told that university’s ‘not for the likes of us’ or that ‘we’re not cut out for that kind of work’ or are put off going into a profession or career because no one they know does that kind of work?
It may not be possible for a school to change every student’s future aspirations, but through planning and implementing some simple changes to aspects of careers and skills education it can make a huge difference to many:
- Work Experience is a powerful tool for careers understanding but please don’t assume every child can organise their own work experience, not every family has the connections required.
- Offer all career development opportunities to all children: by restricting, say, access to information about apprenticeships and vocational skills to certain groups of students you could be limiting chances for students to find just the thing they are suited to.
- Offering all career options to all students is the only way to overcome the kind of stereotyping that leads engineering apprentices to comprise only 6% women and 8% ethnic minorities. 
- If 27.9% of pupils in England went to University in 2018, then 72.1% did not. How are you promoting alternative choices for your students?
Every school can help to level the playing field for each student and their future – their awareness of their own skills and abilities, the way they express them and also how they can apply them across a range of future opportunities – through a series of small changes within your school.
These actions, coupled with the willingness to celebrate successes and encourage student involvement in these celebrations will make it much more likely we’ll see the students prosper in the future, despite the challenges they’ve faced in the past 12 months.
Royal Academy of Engineering: Engineering Skills For The Future, the 2013 Perkins Review Revisited.