Manners maketh the woman

15th December 2006 at 00:00
Carol Gow Lectures At Dundee College

We seem to be having a soft skills crisis in education at the moment. In response, a sixth-form college in Somerset is offering lessons in etiquette. At the other end of the age scale, a Scottish primary school is polishing up the table manners of its infants.

Not to be outdone, I have a soft skills crisis of my own. In my diary, privately, they are referred to as "Bad Girls, 1.15". But of course, officially, they are simply a group who exhibit challenging behaviour, the kind we lecturers love because it allows us to show what we're really made of.

I'm a reasonable person. I understand their behaviour is bad because they don't yet have the skills to behave appropriately, but the truth is that mostly they enjoy being ornery. My job, among other things, is to teach them soft skills. Here we're talking the knife and fork end of the continuum.

I decided to let them in on some secrets. I laid it on the line about soft skills and employability, about having a life where they continually hit a wall or about a life where doors opened and Alan Sugar would be there offering them an apprenticeship. I told them they should also look, listen and learn from people who possessed these skills.

A magical transformation occurred and they saw the light. I wish. At the moment, their role model seems to be Catherine Tate's stroppy teenager who "ain't bovvered".

We've gone through the lippy, answering back, interrupting phase and there's some improvement. But, now that they're asked to speak in oral assessments, they've decided they rather like the role of the shrinking violet and they're refusing to open their mouths.

If I'm optimistic, I think my bad girls and I are moving past the knife and fork end of the continuum. If I go from optimistic to definitely deranged, I may even find myself thinking I've achieved something here. If not, I have a plan B.

I will follow the demonstration of soft skills I observed as I walked my dog in the park. Five pre-teen lads on bikes, clad in helmets and goggles, were racing and skidding into each other dangerously, threatening walkers.

Their trainer managed to corner them. "Lads," he reasoned, "take care.

There are other people around. Be considerate." And then he added, sotto voce, and with feeling: "If you don't, I'll batter you."

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