Curriculum Planning and Design
When pupils follow courses that lead to formal qualifications at Key Stage 4, it’s important not to neglect explicit development of skills. This includes building on subject-specific skills and practical and applied aspects of pupils’ learning.
Skills development needs to accompany any focus on good academic results if schools are to adequately prepare their pupils to be independent learners ready for future study, life and work.
These skills are an essential part of raising standards and adequately equipping pupils to progress to further study or enter the workforce. The challenge is to effectively integrate their development into existing curriculum and programmes.
The term ‘digital skills’ includes the need for young people to acquire and develop familiarity with software and devices. Demand is increasing for suitably qualified and experienced entrants to the job market who bring with them high level digital skills that will enable them to succeed.
Strategic planning in Northern Ireland (see the Matrix Digital ICT Report 2016) has identified four areas where there is likely to be significant development:
- Advanced networks and sensors;
- Data analysis;
- Cyber security; and
- Software engineering.
The Northern Ireland economy needs a supply of skilled local talent. The availability of workers with suitable qualifications and experience is one of the most influential factors when businesses are determining job locations. (See the Key Findings of the World Economic Forum The Future of Jobs Report 2018.)
The Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities of Problem-Solving, Self-Management and Working With Others continue to be relevant to learning and teaching after Key Stage 3. It’s important to ensure continuity and a coherent approach to effective and explicit teaching of these, infusing skills and capabilities within subject experiences.
At this stage, pupils are developing increasing independence in their ability to self-regulate their learning. Many skills linked to metacognitive insight are also relevant to formal qualifications and exam technique. For example, pupils can build habits such as:
- self-checking for comprehension;
- re-reading to pick up errors and correct answers;
- identifying areas of strength and weakness for further attention;
- making connections in their learning; and
- developing successful strategies for problem-solving that are transferable across disciplines.
Teachers can support pupils by ‘thinking aloud’ to model thinking processes and self-regulatory checks. This can develop a common language that helps pupils improve their metacognitive skills.
The Cross-Curricular and Other Skills that are part of the statutory Northern Ireland Curriculum can be thought of as precursors of the skills that employers recruit for, such as independence, resilience, team working, creativity and problem-solving.
Much of the language used to describe skills within the curriculum is also used by those representing employers. For example, skills predicted to be in especially high demand by 2030 (see the 2018 NESTA report Creativity and the Future of Work) include the following:
- interpersonal skills
- social perceptiveness
- cognitive skills
- fluency of ideas
- active learning
- systems skills
Employers often emphasise that entrants to the job market should be 'work ready'. The CBI defines ‘work readiness’ as relating to three themes: character, knowledge and skills.
It can be helpful for teachers to introduce pupils to the match between the language of the curriculum and the skills terminology used in business and enterprise. Well-informed staff can share information about the priorities of employers with their pupils. They might also encourage uptake of opportunities provided by organisations such as:
Programmes like these can give pupils additional opportunities to develop in-demand employability skills such as initiative, commercial awareness and a professional attitude.
Questions for curriculum planners
- To what extent do you track the progress of former pupils in terms of their future, for example at university and in employment?
- How regularly does the school participate in business and enterprise initiatives?
- What successes have school participants achieved in enterprise activities?
- How do you make pupils aware of employability skills?
- What resources do you allocate to employability, and how do you assess whether programmes are effective?
- What steps could be taken to prepare pupils to be independent learners and reduce the undergraduate dropout rate in Northern Ireland?