Key_Skills_In_Education_:_An_Overview (Sam Curran)

QCDA (2010) states that key skills are abilities (which include Literacy, Numeracy, ICT and Thinking Skills) which are needed to be successful at work, school, education and in life generally. Pring (2007 pg 116) suggests that a competency of basic skills such as reading and writing and being IT literate will enable students to be successful in life. According to UCAS (2012) many university courses entry requirements necessitate students to achieve a grade C in both GCSE Maths and English to get onto the course. The benchmark that students need to reach is further reinforced by the Government’s recent introduction of the English Baccalaureate, a measure which determines whether pupils have achieved a Grade C or above in GCSE core subjects (DfE 2010). A knowledge of these skills may also be conducive to a teacher’s practice in 2 aspects. Firstly, they may be useful in aiding a teacher’s planning: particularly ICT. Hammond (2007 pg 164) proposes that if a teacher is proficient in ICT, it may enable them to create resources and use equipment such as interactive whiteboards to engage pupils interest which could stimulate their learning experience. In addition, a deep knowledge of the key skills could allow teachers to understand how all of the subjects interact. This may enable them to try and establish cross-curricular links between all of the key skills which could possibly consolidate children’s understanding in other subjects in addition to what is being taught (National Strategies 2006). Forrester (2003) suggests that an awareness of cross-curricular links also allows a teacher to make lessons more flexible by setting more open-ended tasks which may aid experiential learning where children learn from their mistakes (Kolb 1984). The evidence seems to suggest it is crucial for both teachers and pupils to have an appropriate level of aptitude of the key skills. To try and improve my own personal knowledge of the Key Skills, I have created a webfolio which targets 4 distinct subjects (ICT, Literacy, Numeracy and Thinking Skills). For each area of Key Skills, I have completed tasks and activities which have been designed to improve my knowledge of a particular key skill and make me aware of where it fits in with the school curriculum. By completing this webfolio, I have tried to start to meet the necessary level of proficiency of Key Skills a teacher must have.

According to November (2010), the school environment is becoming increasingly technologically developed with equipment such as smartboards and interactive whiteboards is becoming cheaper and easily available. As a result of this, this type of equipment is used in classrooms more often. To try and meet the sufficient level of understanding of e-technologies, initially I conducted a thorough audit of my IT skills to see which areas I needed to improve (which included a lack of experience of using programs like Frontpage, Paint Shop Pro and Databases). Although I primarily completed this task with a view too improving my level of IT literacy, I feel it may also have allowed me to develop as a reflective practitioner (Schon 1991). Becoming more reflective may have other useful applications within my school career, such as carefully evaluating my own teaching style and planning. It could also allow me to try and make the students I teach more reflective learners (Honey and Mumford 1982 as cited in Kinchin 2007) so they can learn from their educational experiences. To further improve my IT capabilities, I practiced using equipment such as smartboards and programmes such as excel (including the use of macros) and powerpoint to create resources which I would use within my subject area (Mathematics). Although this might have increased my IT abilities, I feel that I need further practice of using these techniques (which I will continue to do throughout my teacher training and my career) before I can properly master them and be able to integrate them properly within my lessons. However incorporating ICT within my lessons should be relatively simple to do and most mathematical activities can be adapted so learners gain the most from them. For example, instead of instructing students to work out a sum on a calculator, pupils could be set more abstract tasks such as finding the number of numerical calculations that involve a certain number. Using ICT in this way may allow them to develop research and problem skills as well as improving their grasp of ICT. However, an appropriate level of ICT must be included in the lesson to have any impact on the pupils. According to DfES (2004), if a teacher only used a small amount of ICT within their lesson then this will not increase the pupils’ ICT capabilities at all. This suggests that a teacher must use a reasonable amount of ICT within their lesson to increase their students’ propensity for the subject. This would seem to suggest that a teacher would need to have a high level of ICT competency to able to achieve this. The importance to pupils of being IT literate is further reinforced by Way and Beardon (2003) who make the observation that current trends in employment and higher education suggest that students need to be computer literate to be successful in these disciplines.

Improving my awareness of thinking skills within the classroom could have many useful applications within the classroom such as: improving the rate at which pupils process information as well as promoting more creative thinking within the classroom whilst further developing a pupil’s investigative and evaluative abilities (DfES 2004). According to Bowkett (2006), if teachers adapted elements of thinking skills within their lesson then their pupils will be able to become more aware of their own thinking processes. This could enable them to work more effectively in school if they have a more analytical approach to their work. To try and ensure I was more aware of how Thinking Skills was used within the school, I studied 2 case studies of educational establishments which had used whole school initiatives to try and promote the advantages of thinking skills to its pupils. In order to develop my personal analytical skills, I then subsequently wrote a 1000 word essay assessing the success of the schools approaches. Doing this task also gave me some useful ideas on how to introduce metacognitive activities (such as planning investigations) within my lessons so pupils can develop higher-order thinking skills which would be useful to them across the curriculum (DfES 2004). Having such an approach could lead to a more personalised (DCSF 2008) form of learning with a pupil becoming aware of how and why they learn which could give them skills that could be applied to other subjects and even in real life situations (QCDA 2004). It could also make them take more responsibility for their learning and become more independent as they may have a better idea how to generate their own ideas and acquire knowledge in a more efficient manner (DfES 2004). These types of skills could be essential for them in the workplace and if they decide to progress to further education. Another possible advantage could result in increasing pupils motivation to learn if they saw connections between what they learnt and the outside world (DfES 2004). I could try and maximise the impact of this within my teaching if I incorporated more situation which have a real-life context in my lessons. This type of ‘situated learning’ (Lave and Wenger 1990) could result in pupils becoming more engaged and involved within the lesson. I attempted to increase my own knowledge of how pupils learn by researching theories as part of my SECC 4003 assignment (‘How do Learning theories help to promote Successful Learners?’) and by completing a questionnaire to determine my preferred multiple intelligence learning style (Gardner 1983). If I was more aware of how my pupils learn then I could try and adapt my teaching so that it conforms to the style in which students naturally learn

(Muijs 2007 pg 45). However, not all pupils learn in the same way so there may be limitations within this approach. All the work in my Portfolio has attempted to the address the need to develop my own thinking skills in order to increase my pupils’ metacognitive abilities. This may have a wider implication within my lessons: Vygotsky (1987) suggests that the more knowledgeable I am about thinking skills then the greater the Zone of Proximal Development is for the pupils I teach thus increasing their cognitive abilities which could in turn boost their academic performance.

I started trying to improve my literacy skills in a similar way to how I attempted to develop my ICT knowledge by determining my prior level of literacy ability. However as well as conducting a meticulous self-audit of my knowledge, I took a practice QTS literacy test. In this I scored 31 out of 45 which was only a satisfactory result as I only scored 2 marks above the pass mark of 29. Although this was still a reasonable score, it confirmed to me there is still a large amount of work for me to do before I can be confident of promoting literacy skills within my lessons. In my portfolio I tried to complete some activities which will hopefully allow me to expand my understanding of talk

(by watching and analysing a series of children’s interactions) and reading (I researched synthetic phonics, the main method of how children learn to read) as they are 2 of the key components of literacy. There seems to be a large amount of techniques I can use to integrate a literacy focus within my lessons such as teaching pupils the specialist and technical terminology associated with my topic area. As well as possibly consolidating their knowledge in Mathematics, it could also develop their language skills and allow them to express themselves in a more sophisticated manner which could give them greater self-confidence (QCA 2000). According to DfE (2008), language is the main way that students learn in a school and if teachers promote it as a tool that aids learning it could enhance students overall academic attainment and to manage their learning better when confronted with any complex content they are being taught (QCA 2001). If children had a strong level of literacy ability, it could allow them to experience lifelong learning and employability (DfES 2004). It may also enable them to apply their literacy skills to a variety of situations which could range from giving a presentation in their job or understanding hidden meanings in texts and social situations (Bearne 1999). To further emphasise the importance of a teacher being proficient within literacy, Wray (2001 as cited in Mackrel and Douglas 2007) states that many of the processes involved in supporting literacy are also used in developing successful learning in all subjects across the curriculum. Overall, it seems crucial that teachers have a good grasp of literacy so that pupils can access the many probable advantages of being proficient at literacy. However because the area of Literacy is extremely complex and involves many skills such as speaking, critical thinking, listening, reading and language (Lewis and Wray 2000), I still have to extensively develop my Literacy skills so it meets the sufficient requirements for being an excellent teacher.

It seems imperative that a teacher should possess a reasonable level of numerical acumen so that pupils can benefit from their expertise. This could help them in other subjects as there are elements of numeracy within most subjects in the curriculum (Mooney and Ferrie 2000). Beardon and Way (2003) suggest that seems particularly evident in the case of Mathematics and ICT where pupils demonstrate computer literacy skills in Maths regularly even when using instruments such as calculators. Although I am quite confident in my mathematical ability (having gained an A* in both GCSE and A Level Maths), I still feel it is important to ensure that I improve my numerical quotient as much as possible so I can have a greater impact on my pupils. Similar to the process I undertook improving my literacy skills; I completed a practice Numeracy QTS test which I scored full marks on. Although I was pleased with my score, I still feel that I need to improve my subject knowledge of Maths so I was knowledgeable about all strands of the subject such as Statistics. I tried to address this need within my portfolio by completing tasks such as researching statistical measures like mean, mode, range and median and finding examples of real-life statistical diagrams such as bar graphs and box and whisker plots. It seems vital that teachers have an effective grasp of Statistics because of its deep roots within everyday life, particularly within a school setting. For example, part of a form tutor’s remit may be to analyse an array of their form group’s marks (Lang pg 318). Even when using a program like excel, this task requires a reasonable amount of statistical knowledge. I discovered this when completing a similar task within my portfolio which required me to statistically evaluate a sample of some pupil’s exam results by working out variables such as the standard deviation and interquartile range. I then further developed my analytical skills by writing a 200 word report summarising my findings. This again seemed to emphasis the importance of being computer literate to a teacher as this task required me to use basic ICT skills. Another possible benefit of a teacher being confident in their numerical ability is that they may be able to promote the subject and its advantages even within their own subject area. This would hopefully contribute to a change in attitude to Maths to pupils and even the general public: Haylock (2010) suggests that some adults have feelings of fear, frustration and anxiety towards Maths due to their own unpleasant mathematical experiences. Briggs (1993 as cited in Haylock 2010) suggests that this fear even exists within teachers who panic when confronted with unfamiliar mathematical problems. If people (in particular students at school) were more knowledgeable about maths it may alleviate any fears they might have and break down the barriers they have regarding the subject. For this to happen, it may be realistic to assume that every teacher needs to possess a good level of numerical knowledge. This again seems to imply the importance to teachers to having an awareness of the key skills.

Overall, it seems quite important for both teachers and pupils to have an aptitude for key skills such as Literacy, Numeracy, ICT and Thinking Skills although the reasons as to why they should be skilled in these subjects differ for both teachers and pupils. For students, knowledge of the key skills should allow them to progress through school and higher education more smoothly whilst allowing them to complete everyday tasks in an efficient manner. It may even boost their career prospects and employability potential. Being proficient at the key skills may allow the teachers to carry out their role more effectively and allow the pupils to gain access to the aforementioned benefits knowledge of the key skills can give them. It could also help teachers carry out administrative tasks such as writing reports and analysing marks. However I feel the most important reason for being proficient in the key skills for both pupils and teachers is so that they can cope more easily in the world that we live in, particularly as it is becoming more technologically advanced. From a personal point of view, the completion of the portfolio has allowed me to become relatively capable in all the elements of the Key Skills but I feel that I still need to improve my level of competence for them so I can fulfil my potential as a teacher.

References Government Publications Great Britain. Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (2010) Key Skills: Standards and Guidance [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 10 April 2012). Great Britain. Department for Further Education (2010) The Importance of Teaching: Schools White Paper [Online]. Available at (Accessed: 10 April 2012). Great Britain. National Strategies (2006) Progression in Discussion Texts [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 10 April 2012). Great Britain. Department for Further Education and Skills (2004) ICT across the curriculum: ICT in Mathematics [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 10 April 2012). Great Britain. Department for Further Education and Skills (2004) Leading in Learning: Developing Thinking Skills at Key Stage Three [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2012). Great Britain. Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (2004) The National Curriculum Handbook for Secondary Teachers [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2012). Great Britain. Department for Further Education and Skills (2004) Key Stage 3 National Strategy: Improving Pupils rate of progress within ICT [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2012). Great Britain. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) Personalised Learning: A Practical Guide [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2012). Great Britain. Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2000) Language for Learning in Key Stage 3. London: QCA. Great Britain. Department for Further Education (2008) Framework for Teaching English [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2012). Great Britain. Department for Further Education and Skills (2004) Key Stage Three National Strategy: Literacy in Careers Education [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2012). Great Britain. Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2001) Language at work in lessons: Literacy across the Curriculum [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2012). Books Hammond, M. (2007) ‘Using ICT to promote learning’ in Bills, L. , Brooks, V. and Abbott, I (eds.) Preparing to teach in the Secondary school: a student’s teacher’s guide to professional issues in secondary education. Maidenhead: Open University Press. pp. 157-170. Kinchin, G. (2007) ‘Understanding learning’ in Ellis, V. (ed.) Learning and teaching in secondary schools. 4th edn. Exeter: Learning matters. pp. 25-38. Douglas, A. and Mackrel, K. (2007) ‘Teaching Literacy across the Curriculum’ in Ellis, V. (ed.) Learning and teaching in secondary schools. 4th edn. Exeter: Learning matters. pp. 92-101. Pring, D. (2007) ‘The 14-19 Curriculum’ in Ellis, V. (ed.) Learning and teaching in secondary schools. 4th edn. Exeter: Learning matters. pp. 113-122. Way, J. and Beardon, T. ‘Digital Technologies + Mathematics Education = Powerful Learning Environments’ in Way, J. and Beardon, T. (eds.) ICT and primary Mathematics. Maidenhead: Open University Press. pp. 1-6. Forrester, R. (2003) ‘It’s not calculators but how they are used….’ in Beardon, T. and Way, J. (eds.) ICT and primary Mathematics. Maidenhead: Open University Press. pp. 7-28. Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.
Schön, D. A. (1991) The Reflective Turn: Case Studies In and On Educational Practice.  New York: Teachers Press.
November, A (2010) Empowering Students with Technology. London: Sage. Bowkett, S. (2006) 1000 ideas for Teaching Thinking Skills. London: Continuum. Muijs, D. (2007) ‘Understanding how pupils learn: theories of learning and intelligence’ in Brooks, V, Abbott, I and Bills, L (eds.) Preparing to teach in Secondary Schools: A student’s guide to professional issues in secondary education. Maidenhead: Open University Press, pp. 45-59 Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1990). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bearne, E. (1999) Use of language across the Secondary Curriculum. Routledge: London. Lewis, M. and Wray, D. (2000) Literacy in the Secondary School. London: David Fulton. Mooney, C. and Ferrie, L. (2000) Primary Mathematics: Knowledge and Understanding. Exeter: Learning Matters. Lang, P. (2007). ‘Pastoral care and the role of the form tutor’ in Brooks, V., Abbott, I. and Bills, L. (eds.) Preparing to teach in secondary schools: a student’s guide to professional issues in secondary education. 2nd edn. Maidenhead: Open University Press. pp. 316-324 Haylock, D. (2010) Mathematics Explained for primary teachers. 4th edn. London: Sage.


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