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Education's missing piece

Tom Ravenscroft, Founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, explains how he is trying to reduce the skills gap

Posted by Lucinda Reid | November 14, 2017 | School life

 There is something fundamental missing in education. I saw it first-hand a decade ago as a teacher in a challenging secondary school in East London.

Every new teacher faces challenges: seating plans, behaviour management, coursework. But there seemed to be a much bigger problem. I was worried that my students struggled to listen to one another and articulate their ideas. It didn’t seem sustainable that I worried more about their coursework and deadlines than they did – or that the expectation was I would organise them. And what about creativity, or the ability to problem-solve?

Beyond the classroom

This sense was what led me, eight years ago, to work with a team of other teachers to set up Enabling Enterprise. We knew that building students’ knowledge and understanding of the world was essential. But we also felt that it was not enough.

It was not just in the classroom that this gap was obvious. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) every year surveys employers on their views on school leavers. This highlighted that almost half of employers had concerns about their school leavers’ problem-solving and self-management skills. Similarly, colleges and universities were worried that their students lacked the study skills to succeed – with 1 in 12 first-year students from a disadvantaged background dropping out.

The essential skills

So, there were evidently some critical skills that were not being sufficiently developed in the education system. What we realised though was that although we badge these skills in many different ways – soft skills, life skills, 21st century skills, employability skills and many more – they are essentially the same things. At Enabling Enterprise, we took the domains that came up time and again and reduced them down to the eight essentials: teamwork, leadership, creativity, problem-solving, listening, presenting, aiming high and staying positive.

What’s exciting is that when you dig into any of these skills, you realise that they are completely teachable: you just need to teach each element in the right order. For example, in teamwork includes how to take it in turns, then how to organise a group meeting, how to allocate roles, and how to resolve conflict. Our work at Enabling Enterprise has shown that every child and young person in mainstream education can achieve a high level of competence in these skills – we just need to teach them.

How to teach them

We build them most effectively by drawing parallels from two of the critical skills we feel very comfortable teaching: literacy and numeracy. That means starting really young, with children as young as three-years-old, then working with students until they are 18-years-old. It means giving regular lessons which build each skill, and then give space to practice it through extended projects like creating a radio show, or running a fundraising campaign.

Tools that we’ve developed allow teachers to assess what their students can already do, and what they need to work on in each skill, so they can make progress faster. Finally, we want these skills to be transferable – which means that from the outset we need to be taking students out of the classroom into the real world. We’ve been fortunate to build partnerships with over 130 employers, including hospitals, accountancies, airports and many more. These partners host our students, helping them to see how the skills will be essential in whatever they want to do next.

Reasons for optimism

In the last year, 87,000 students have completed an Enabling Enterprise programme in schools across the country. We’re working now to broaden our partnership to include many more schools and other skills-building colleagues.

The data shows that there are big gaps in students’ skills. But also that with focused teaching these gap  can close – and every student can be put on the trajectory for success in the rest of their lives. This is a missing piece of education that we really can fix.

Tom Ravenscroft is Founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, an award-winning social enterprise working with schools across the country to build the essential skills of 3- to 18-year-olds. His first book, entitled ‘The Missing Piece: The Essential Skills that Education Forgot’ was published by John Catt Educational Publishing in October. You can find out more about the tools and resources mentioned in TheEssentialSkills.org   

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