The Critical Skills Programme (CSP) was developed by teachers brought together by Antioch New Graduate School, Keene, New Hampshire, and has been used extensively in New England and New York State. The programme was introduced to the UK in 2000. Since then, experienced trainers from the US, helped by a growing number of UK teachers who have successfully applied CSP to their own classrooms, have provided training all over the UK.
The programme was developed by classroom teachers and business people concerned that students were leaving school with qualifications that were of little value in terms of working skills. Together, they defined the skills and "dispositions" that students would need to be employable and successful.
The resulting product was a new way of teaching called Education By Design or EBD. In the UK we named it critical skills as EBD had its own connotation within education. Put simply, CSP is a "set of tools and strategies for being purposeful in the process of engaging students in their learning, making classes run smoothly, fulfilling the requirements of the national curriculum and focusing on quality work" (Education By Design - Level 2 Coaching Kit, Antioch University 1999). Students are set time-restricted, problem-based challenges where they must rely on each other to meet the deadline. They are clear about product quality criteria, the content to be covered and the skill being practised or assessed.
Students present their work to an audience and give feedback to other groups as well as being involved in self-reflection and evaluation. This feedback informs future planning of their process and the group improves as a result.
The products from challenges are saved and used at the start of future challenges as exemplar material and a reminder of what succeeded and what could be improved. Adding a senior member of staff, pupils from another school, visitors and speakers to the audience raises the bar and invariably improves the quality of the process and product.
* For further information regarding Critical Skills contact Linda Marshall, CSP programme manager, England and Wales
* Rachel Smith is senior strategic leader: quality of teaching and teacher of science and personal development at Challenge College, Bradford