Soft skills and small talk – adding value

Governors at DHSB polishing the social skills of students

Educational commentators speculate regularly on the value of what is taught in schools and what will be valuable later in life. Perhaps the most high profile and sadly predictable expression of this occurs annually following the release of exam results. Standards improve and someone from the CBI is wheeled out to complain that young people are still essentially illiterate and unemployable.

However irritating and simplistic this view is, the debate itself is essential if we are to continue equipping our young people for the exciting and competitive futures they face. Coalition policy is being executed with unprecedented haste but one can see the premise of adding real value for young people is at its heart.

In the same spirit we have introduced a carousel of support activities for students applying for competitive courses. In addition to the specialist, technical elements of their subject, students are challenged on their ability to think on their feet socially, to respond appropriately to differences of opinion and how to ensure that conversation is enjoyable and productive. Soft skills and small talk; the words sound diminutive but the skills have a massive impact for ongoing success in life.

After half an hour of mingling at one such event (while juggling canapés and drinks), students reflect on their experiences. They all appreciate the opportunity to be doing this in rehearsal for the real interview and social experiences they will be having.

They also receive feedback on the quality of first impression they make. This is the genuinely educational element that the National Curriculum will always fail to capture. Students are warned that the things they may hear may be challenging and may touch upon core behaviours about which they were unaware. They can choose to hear these things or not – all of them want to hear. Some will go away and dismiss what they’ve heard but the words are out there; mental bullet points for the reflective and resilient – linguistic reflux for those susceptible to arrogance.

How valuable is that? How often do we get the opportunity to hear this sort of honest, developmental opinion about ourselves? How often do we feel that letting someone know about a fatal flaw would benefit them for ever but are forced to refrain through delicacy or fear of the consequences? These opportunities are rare and life-changing.

23 years ago I received a report as a young RN bursar after an adventurous training week that described my good parts but also made it clear that I could be defensive about criticism or advice. Fair? Leave a comment, I’ll respond and you’ll find out.

  • Rebecca Donnelly

    I agree it is really important to be able to talk to people. I think it is good that those boys have also learnt to take critical advice when they are young enough to make changes easier.
    How can more boys have a similar experience?

  • I agree, this is a challenge – but a timely one.

    Maybe boys could plan, prepare and deliver a social function for their families as part of PSHEEC and DT? Food prep in Gibbons and served in ReFuel?

  • Pete Robinson

    In this day of age it’s not just the personal interactions, but also those from afar, telephone conversations, email, blogging! Are they able to hold a professional conversation in a variety of methods.

  • You’re right. We touched on this at LGx last week in the discussion surrounding e-mail etiquette for students.

    However, the knowing comments and smiles following the reminder about the “undo send” function in Google suggests that we could all benefit from some revision here!

  • Following the swipe at the CBI this report encourages businesses to make stronger links with schools:

    http://www.cbi.org.uk/media/1138544/cbi_action_for_jobs_oct11.pdf

    “Employability School” Status will need to be more than a badge to collect and may nettle educationalists who see schooling as being more than the production of economic units.