VIEWS & OPINION Curriculum design:

knowledge vs skills Comment by ALICE SHEPPERSON, Senior Product Manager: Curriculum Services, Pearson

Ofsted says there is no single ‘best’ approach to curriculum design, but most people working in education will have noticed that there’s a lot more talk about knowledge than skills. In fact, Amanda Spielman herself has argued that “the vast, accumulated wealth of human knowledge, and what we choose to pass on to the next generation through teaching in our schools (the curriculum), must be at the heart of education.” Knowledge and skills often appear together

in the Education Inspection Framework, but there are places where the emphasis seems to tip towards knowledge. The framework places importance on the retention of knowledge, and the explicit focus on “cultural capital” implies that knowledge (not skills) is key in combating disadvantage and promoting social justice. So where does this leave skills? A key shift in thinking is around the relationship between skills and

knowledge. There was a time when wise men thought that Google searches made facts irrelevant and what students needed were transferable skills. However, research into how people learn has shown how skills need to be built upon what people know. This suggests attempts to divorce skills from subject knowledge are problematic. At Pearson, one place we feel skills should feature strongly is in

subject disciplines. The research behind the new Ofsted framework highlighted that an emphasis on subjects was one common factor in strong curriculum design. Subject disciplines, made up of both subject- specific knowledge and subject-specific skills is what makes someone a good geographer, scientist or historian, and subject skills are vital to exam success - GCSEs require far more than knowledge recall! Some of these subject-specific skills apply across subjects, and it’s

absolutely right to coordinate teaching between subjects so that skills build coherently. However, it’s also important not to lose subject- specificity. This can be easily done when designing cross-curricula schemes, for example, confusing English skills with History skills when writing essays. The primacy of subject disciplines may seem obvious and easy to

specialist teachers working in secondary schools, but may be newer to some primaries, who may need to work hard to identify and embed important subject-specific skills. Another place where skills should come into curriculum design is in

preparing students for the world of work: future employment is mentioned several times in the framework. Technical skills should certainly be considered, firstly as part of

offering a “broad and balanced” curriculum that extends beyond academic subjects, and secondly because these practical abilities will help students to transition to life beyond education. But employment skills need to look to the future. In 2017 Pearson

produced the Future of Skills report, which attempted to predict what skills would be most valuable in 2030. This highlighted how future workers are likely to need to continue learning throughout their careers, so learning strategies are key, alongside decision making, creativity, systems evaluation, reasoning and problem solving. It is clear that both knowledge and skills are vital. Good curriculum

design embeds both subject and employability skills but also contains powerful, carefully chosen and sequenced knowledge from which the skills can be built upon. Pearson is currently developing a KS3 curriculum based on the most up-to-date evidence and research

uA series of free Handy Guides to Ofsted’s Inspection Framework are available to download at:

January 2020

Time to rip up the rule book on how we teach communication skills: let’s take communication skills to

the heart of the curriculum Comment by JAMES BRYCE, Gweek

For too long in the UK we have taught communication and speech skills only at the periphery, and not equipped students with the soft skills they need to succeed as they move into further education and working life. We are at a critical crossroad; a continued lack of appropriate pedagogy bodes ill for the 21st century. Industry research points to soft skills being the biggest skills gap in today’s workforce. Is this an opportunity to finally harness our speech intelligence; our ability to communicate clearly,

confidently, yet authentically? Speech intelligence is a native ability I believe we all possess, yet need to treat as a skill to be truly shaped. In a report on ‘The State of Speaking in Our Schools’1

from 2016, it

showed that oracy - learning to talk well and learning well through talk – is an essential foundation for personal development. Yet as we start a new decade, can we stop treating speaking like an art form and more like a science, giving the tools and support our educators and schools need, to break out of the restrictive model of the three Rs, elevating speaking to the same platform? Our curriculum can play a central role in nurturing a generation of

effective communicators; we should value speech as we have, rightly, valued the written word, and finally technological developments mean that we can easily integrate it into the learning process. As a speech and communication behavioural analyst working with

schools, I believe in a real necessity for students to learn how speech works, breaking it down as we do the written word. We also need to challenge the perceived authority that is attached to speech in schools, as a servant of formality; as opposed to a facilitator of two-way information, both intellectual and emotional. I've spent the last 20 years studying and understanding speech, and

through gweek we've developed an award-winning framework which can measure and analyse various patterns of communication and score someone's 'speech intelligence' in real time. Our machine learning technology turns this analysis into skills improvement opportunities with bite-sized, personalised learning modules. It is a step change away from traditional presentation and public speaking courses. I have seen transformations in classrooms as students discover an ability they didn’t realise they possessed. Technology can also work as an important intermediary in building

confidence as well as breaking down the hierarchy associated with speech, as teachers and students learn simultaneously. I have witnessed teachers benefiting from gweek literally as much as students, revealing their own insecurities around speaking - how they get nervous speaking in assembly or peer-evaluation sessions - gweek makes the learning process accessible and practical to all, no matter who you are. Keeping students motivated and engaged is key, and that is where

the real opportunities lie in the years ahead with digital, personalised, self-directed learning that supports teachers in the classroom. Education Technology can provide an efficient way of learning that is as much for staff as it is for students. Adding communication to the curriculum is an educational right for all and will fundamentally increase the employability of young people.

1 “The State of Speaking in Our Schools” was commissioned by Voice 21. 23

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