Leadership programme

Why skills matter: students need more than subject knowledge

Sam Wiles

Acting Head of Science

Wapping High

At Wapping High, part of our ethos includes the belief that children should leave school to become lifelong learners and be fully equipped to enter a competitive and ever-changing world.

To this end, we decided that following the National Curriculum alone failed to arm students with the soft skills that are demanded from them later in life, particularly in the workplace. This led to the formation of our Workshop Wednesday programme; a bespoke curriculum primarily for KS3 students that focuses on teaching and developing their soft skills. As a protected segment in their normal timetables, we ensure that for two hours a week, students learn, practice and showcase their skill development.

How is the programme structured?

Workshop Wednesday offers a unique blend of project-based and instructional learning. Students work their way through projects that last around six weeks. Project themes vary, from diversity and inclusion, to designing and building model colonies on Mars. The projects themselves include learning, but they also act as a vehicle for the teaching and delivery of skills. As students work through their projects, teachers take the opportunity to provide instruction on explicit facets of a chosen skill. Discussion points are provided and time for individual and group reflection tasks are prioritised.

Skills Builder: Our partner

In the process of designing our project based learning approach,, we were faced with an age old question: How do you structure an extracurricular activity with the rigour expected by school leaders and Ofsted? Our answer to this was with the support of an organisation called Skills Builder.

As an organisation dedicated to the development of eight essential skills, a partnership with them seemed only natural. Their core aim is to equip students and adults with explicit knowledge on how to develop speaking, listening, creativity, problem solving, aiming high, staying positive, leadership and teamwork skills. Through our partnership, we access a range of basic and useful resources as well as guidance on how schools can implement and improve the teaching of these skills.

One of the most important tools provided by Skills Builder was the self-assessment platform, Skills Builder Benchmark. A clear and easily accessible website, all our students have access to it and periodically assess their progress through the skills as they work through their projects. The primary goal is that by continually assessing themselves and scoring themselves in each skill, and working with their teachers to discuss, reflect and be coached, students understand where they are in relation to each skill. Each skill is broken down into fifteen steps and this provides opportunities for students to understand that their progress isn’t linear. There have been occasions where they’ve scored themselves highly in one skill during one project and then months later during another, they regress and realise that their skill development isn’t clean or precise, highlighting a myth that is held by teachers just as easily as students.

A chosen skills leader from Wapping High works closely with an associate from Skills Builder in order to establish goals and plans that will help the school achieve a skills accreditation of Bronze, Silver or Gold. As a school, we’re proud to say that we’re a Silver accredited school with the target of gaining our Gold status by the end of this academic year.

How do we know it works? Is it a gamble?

In short, yes. Every new educational innovation comes with an element of risk. Our programme doesn’t have the intense assessment or scrutiny that underpins academic subjects, and for good reason. Our Workshop Wednesday programme is intentionally designed to allow students to breathe, make mistakes and reflect on how they develop their skills without the pressure of a performative narrative that permeates the rest of their school life. We encourage reflection, accountability and autonomy.

As teachers, we have the ability to track their progress through Skills Builder, but this is only done in order to inform coaching conversations and develop real progress. Through wWorkshop Wednesday, we give shy students the opportunity to develop public speaking, reserved students the chance to work in healthy teams. and the more high-energy students chances to hone their leadership qualities.

It’s our aim to give each student the motivation and opportunity to become aspirational and more well-rounded students who are ready and eager to face life’s challenges -and so far, they tell us it’s working!

Big Education

Leadership Programme

Applications are now open for headteachers and senior leaders working across education. The programme gives you the opportunity to connect with your authentic self and equip you with powerful strategies to bring about the changes you believe in.

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