Key skills

8th December 2000 at 00:00
KEY SKILLS: COMMUNICATION LEVELS 1-3 RESOURCE FILE. By Janet Byatt, Karen Davies, Hugh Hillyard-Parker, Cathy Lake and Sheila White. Longman pound;95. KEY SKILLS: INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY LEVELS 1-3 RESOURCE FILE. By Hugh Hillyard-Parker, Ian Kingston, Dot Moore and Anne Rooney. Longman. pound;95. KEY SKILLS: APPLICATION OF NUMBER LEVELS 1-3 RESOURCE FILE. By John Gillespie, Hillary Rimmer, Marilyn Cook and Mary Ronniefield. Longman. pound;95. LONGMAN KEY SKILLS SERIES. Application of Number level 1 and 2. Application Of Number level 3. Communication level 1 and 2. Communication level 3. Information Technology level 1 and 2. Information Technology level 3. Edited by Barry Smith. Longman. pound;8.99 each.

APPLICATION OF NUMBER. By Gwyn Davies and Gordon Hicks. Longman. pound;12.99.

COMPLETE KEY SKILLS. By G D Martin et al. Complete Key Skills. pound;149. Unit 5, Bewdley Drive. Leighton Buzzard. Bedfordshire LU7 7XL.

Key skills are booming. All colleges and most schools are delivering at least some of the key skills or starting to realise they risk missing the boat. A huge programme of Inset is available from the key skills support programme and from the major awarding bodies. Ucas is solidly behind key skills and has included them in the tariff for 2002 applicants.

The problem now is the shortage of resources. This is understandable. Although the specifications for the first three key skills have been available since early this year, detailed guidance from the QCA took longer to emerge, so publishers have had even less time than usual to commission, write and publish suitable materials.

But the demand is huge. Various types of material are needed. Learners who need to pay special attention to the underpinning techniques that appear in part A of the units (and which form the focus of the external tests) will require skills-building materials.

Learners who are ready to work on producing evidence for their portfolios need resources that will help them apply the skills. Resources will also vary according to whether centres are integrating delivery into main programmes, providing discrete key skills lessons, providing drop-in workshops or offering a mix of these models.

The Longman Key Skills resource files focus on practising the underpinning techniques, albeit always in an applied context. The bulk of each file is made up of photocopiable worksheets, each based on a topic linked to part A of the specifications, and each of which can stand alone.

With brief but clear explanations and activities on every topic (answers provided), these packs are designed for use in workshop settings, preferably with a tutor's support. Follow-up activities are suggested.

Each section begins with a self-assessment and has a pro forma for students to plan their work. These packs will be a valuable workshop reource, whether used in a planned programme or on a "drop-in" basis for learners who need specific help.

Three minor criticisms: the pages are crowded; the language level may be too high for some level 1 learners; and few of the examples are from ASA-level programmes.

The Longman Key Skills series aims to cover underpinning techniques and evidence requirements. Within the constraints of about 130 pages, it succeeds.

Each book starts with a "learning curve" section - which addresses part A of the specifications ("what you need to know"), although not in detail. The second section - "the bottom line" - tells learners what they must do to complete their portfolio. It amplifies and explains part B of the specifications and gives examples of evidence.

The third - "opportunities" - has a couple of pages each on GCSE, ASA-levels and vocational A-levels. All the books are well written, straightforward and clear. The authors understand key skills. They emphasise that key skills are used for a purpose, in contexts, and that they are integral to all programmes of study, to work, and life in general. Their approach to the external tests is particularly sensible.

One word of warning - always check with your awarding body about portfolio evidence requirements which have developed since these books were published.

Davies and Hicks' Application of Number takes yet another slant, focusing entirely on preparing candidates for external tests. It explains the mathematical techniques, gives worked examples in contexts, offers exercises and provides answers. The contents are not ordered to match part A of the units.

The first nine chapters cover levels 1 and 2, and the final five add what is needed at level 3. The book assumes that application of number will be taught by maths teachers in stand-alone lessons, a delivery model that has been shown not to work. In its own terms, this may be a worthwhile maths textbook, but it is not really an application of number resource.

Complete Key Skills is published by a group of teachers who seem deeply disillusioned by the key skills initiative, possibly because, from this evidence, they have not entirely understood what is required. The implicit (and sometimes explicit) message is that key skills are a burdensome additional requirement: here are some ways to reduce the problem.

Declaring that delivering key skills through individual subjects will be difficult, if not impossible, the package "allows staff to concentrate on their subject teaching" by providing photocopiable key skills assignments for learners at level 3. Most of the assignments are too directive to produce level 3 evidence, and the pack is shaky on terminology, levels and the external tests.

Pat McNeill is a consultant in post-16 education and training

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