We must shine a light on essential skills

8th July 2011 at 01:00

I am slightly reluctant to suggest to the prolific Michael Gove another area in which he might want to introduce change, since his current rate of announcements and initiatives is dizzying.

However, if he is serious about improving education, I would suggest one area that reformers have consistently failed to address.

Schools up and down the country, in both independent and maintained sectors, stress the importance of soft skills such as communication, teamwork and so on. In schools such as my own, with rich extracurricular programmes, we highlight the benefits to our pupils of drama, public speaking, debating, choirs, sports teams, the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, etc.

Successful collaboration and teamwork lie at the heart of these, as they do in much of our academic work, and we tell our pupils and parents how important it is to develop these essential skills for later life. After all, the world of work (so we tell our students) is essentially social, like it or not, meaning EQ (emotional quotient) is as important to success as IQ.

Then, with little warning, and especially around this time of year, the very same schools up and down the country come to examine their pupils - and what do we do? We sit them down in rows, tell them they are on their own, and in silence, please! Collaboration or communication, both previously vaunted as invaluable life-enhancing skills, are condemned as "cheating". Does this strike others as odd?

Traditional exams have value, without question, but perhaps it is time to consider a more balanced approach that combines existing examination systems with an element of formal continuous assessment, as happens in some continental countries such as Germany. That way, our systems of assessment could recognise and reward, rather than ignore and forbid, important life skills.

Martin Priestley, Headmaster, Warminster School, Wiltshire.

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