Tom Ravenscroft, Founder & CEO, Enabling Enterprise
Education in England is not fair. It is to the credit of the Fair Education Alliance, of which Enabling Enterprise is an enthusiastic founding member, that we have begun to see this as not a natural state of affairs, but as a fixable problem.
Addressing it is frequently highlighted as a priority in politics by all parties. That over eighty organisations have committed to collaborate to address the gap is heartening.
What are we making fair?
The challenge is that when we talk about making education fair, our minds most immediately drift to differences in academic attainment. It is clear and compellingly wrong that the most disadvantaged students should be almost twice as likely to miss out on achieving good passes in GCSE English and Maths as their wealthier peers.
It is unsurprising that we place so much emphasis on rebalancing grades, because we want to be rigorous and measurable. And the most robust things we feel we have are exam results.
But a good education is not just exam grades. A good education, of course, involves building a great deal of knowledge and understanding of the world. It should also develop character – that is, the ability to make thoughtful, ethical choices – and good mental health. Finally, it needs to build the ability to do.
And this is often the missing piece: the essential skills that our children and young people need.
The missing piece: Essential Skills
The essential skills are often badged in different ways – soft skills, life skills, enterprise skills, employability skills, or study skills. Whatever the badge, this set of skills covers the ability to work with others, to creatively problem-solve, to self-manage and to communicate effectively.
I have come to realise over the last eight years running Enabling Enterprise and in writing my new book, if we just focus on the grades of our students to make education fair we are missing something fundamental – for three compelling reasons.
The first is that these are skills that are inherently valuable in their own right. Employers, colleges and universities are crying out for these skills. The latest education and skills survey from the CBI highlighted that just 23% of employers prioritise the qualifications of school and college leavers over their skills and attitude. Similarly, the University of Cambridge highlights critical study skills that undergraduates need to succeed – academic qualifications are not enough.
The second reason, is that if we just remove inequalities in grades, we still do not make education fair. Work from the Social Mobility Commission has showed that two young people from different socio-economic backgrounds who have achieved the same grades still go on to have different trajectories in the rest of their lives. The main reason? Differences in parental networks and soft skills.
The third and final reason is that building essential skills does not have to mean neglecting building knowledge. At Enabling Enterprise, we work with children from as young as 3-years-old to give regular lessons in the eight essential skills we focus on: teamwork, leadership, creativity, problem-solving, presenting, listening, aiming high and staying positive. As students build their competence in these skills, their ability to learn also soars.
Private schools are investing hugely in activities to build these skills, complemented by parental networks and a wide range of extra-curricular learning opportunities. We need to rebalance the playing field here.
What is exciting is that through the efforts of Enabling Enterprise’s almost 300 partner schools we have seen that it is possible for every child and young person to build their essential skills. They take as rigorous an approach to these skills as any other academic learning: assessing the students’ skills at the outset, delivering dedicated teaching time just on the skills, continually practising and reinforcing those skills, and then taking students out of the classroom to apply them with employers.
Through the Fair Education Alliance, we are now working with partners including Teach First, Ark, Career Ready, BITC, Family Links, the National Literacy Trust and others to develop a shared language and approach to building these skills.
By working together, and elevating the value of essential skills, we really can ensure that education becomes fair.
Tom Ravenscroft is Founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, an award-winning social enterprise working with schools across the country to build the essential skills of 3- to 18-year-olds. His first book, entitled ‘The Missing Piece: The Essential Skills that Education Forgot’ is published by John Catt Educational Publishing in October.
You can find out more about the tools and resources mentioned in the blog at www.TheEssentialSkills.org