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Work eclipses school

The young value skills gained in employment more than those taught in the classroom, research shows

COMMUNICATION skills and the ability to get on with other people are more highly rated by young people than literacy and numeracy. A study of their attitude to "core skills" also shows that they value work experience, including part-time jobs.

The research report published this week comes in time to influence the Higher Still liaison group reconvened by the Executive following this year's examination problems. In looking at the complexities of the new certificates, which attest to candidates' core skills, the liaison group will note that the 16 to 21-year-olds questioned in the research see out-of-school experiences as more significant than school work in developing the skills they most value.

More than two hundred young people in Coatbridge, Callander and Gateshead were chosen for the Scottish Council for Research in Education study, commissioned last year by the UK-wide Lifelong Learning Foundation. They were shown photographs taken by other young people of everyday activities and asked to comment on the skills observed.

Kevin Lowden, one of the three researchers, said: "Literacy and numeracy were ranked secondary to interpersonal and communication skills." He told last week's European Conference on Educational Research in Edinburgh: "We underestimate work experience as a crucial factor in how young people see skills developed."

Part-time jobs are highly rated alongside work experience organised by schools. Generally, young people place the skills learned in informal settings above those of the school curriculum.

There was confidence that information and communication technology skills, which the young people claimed had not been primarily developed through school, could be upgraded relatively easily when necessary. The research report notes:

"This confidence may be misplaced and might be attributable to young people being insufficiently aware of the considerable demands made in using ICT in various work situations."

Schools' contribution to developing skills gets a "rather negative appraisal", according to the report. This mayreflect the age of the informants or may be "a result of the secondary school curriculum which is largely fragmented into subject studies along with an overloaded personal and social education curriculum".

Mr Lowden told the European researchers that young people laid stress on the importance of the family in life-skills. "Therefore those without good family support will need help," he said.

There was a recognition that life-skills on their own are not enough to be successful in employment and socially. There have also to be commitment, motivation and patience, and enough knowledge to perform efficiently.

The researchers got the same responses from people with diverse backgrounds and educational abilities. One difference emerged between the sexes: only young women claim that the media, especially television and life-style magazines, influence the development of their personal skills.

To the skills identified as important by the Executive and curriculum writers - literacy, numeracy, working with others, critical thinking, problem-solving and ICT - the interviewees added two more, creativity and aesthetics, and physical and co-ordination skills.

"Young People's Life-Skills and the Future", by Janet Powney, Kevin Lowden and Stuart Hall, is published by the Scottish Council for Research in Education, price pound;7. SCRE website:


THE 16 to 21-year-olds in the study gave their reactions to photographs.

To a picture of a young man feeding a baby its bottle, a sixth-year pupil said:

"He'll need to budget with his money. Know how to act around children, watch his language."

A job club member said: "You have to read the instructions and know about measures when you make its food. You have to stay calm when the kid is crying. You learn to know when it is hungry and when it wants to play."

A photograph of girls working together in a gym elicited responses from two S6 pupils: "They have to work as a team. You learn it through socialising after school activities." "They have to follow the other people's movements and steps - you learn teamwork through your experience."

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