(Updated below) TES Scotland, the leading magazine for the education profession in Scotland, has an article of 1st June 2012 – Fruit from The Skills Tree – demonstrating a highly developmental innovation.
The article takes takes Kilmodan Primary school in Glendaruel to show how this innovation – The Skills Tree – by ‘education development officer’ Aileen Goodall, is working in its current P6 and P7 pilot, for which Kilmodan is one of the chosen schools.
On the way to that core topic, the journalist mentions that on arrival at the school, the children are rehearsing a production of Red Riding Hood – in French and for a UNESCO event in Glasgow. Unsurprisingly, the school has won an award for the quality of its French teaching – with even maths sometimes taught through that medium, for variety of language development.
Impressing too was the tearoom run at the pupils and which has already won it a Social enterprise award and a place in the finals of the Scottish Education Awards to be announced later this month, in the Enterprise and Employability Across Learning award.
Kilmodan is one of Argyll’s Lazarus schools, selected as a suitable case for closure by the council just 18 months ago. It was vigorously and successfully defended by its parent council and now, with its 19 pupils, two teachers and dedicated classroom assistants, is showing just what a loss it would have been.
The Skills Tree is a very good idea indeed, with positive lifelong benefits in personal development that must impact upon performance and employability at whatever level.
Basically, it asks pupils to think about and describe what skills they are using in whatever they are doing and to record these on their personal Skills Tree on their webpage on the council’s online support system. Aileen Goodall says it’s ‘a vocabulary and a framework for thinking and talking about skills systematically’.
This is effectively the development of a meta skill, the skill of identifying the skills in use.
The pupils are given a list of skills an they choose and record the most appropriate in relation to their activities of the moment. In the TES article, talking to the journalist they mention skills like listening, perseverance, organisation…
Headteacher, Joyce Hawkins, tells TES ‘We began using the Skills Tree in September, and if you look at what they have done since, you can clearly see the change. Their language has become more eloquent, descriptive and detailed.’
And actually it;s even more than that. The change in the pupils’ language is the external manifestation of a change in their thinking, the level of their awareness of what they are doing and their understanding of it.
This sort of self analysis cannot be other than substantially developmental for the children. Knowing what you are doing in the way you approach work brings control in moving on to make conscious choices in the skills you apply to any challenge.
This approach will help young children to develop a level of strategic thinking and planning that will stand them in the best possible stead as individuals, team members and team leaders.
Asking them not just to tick what seems like the name of the skill in use in a moment of a given task but to describe it in operation has been noted by the children to be even harder. This mean that the system as a whole is building secondary skills and insights on the back of the Skills Tree itself.
One child quoted, having chosen ‘perseverance’ as the skills he had to deploy in leaning knots, said it was far harder to find words to describe what he was actually doing.
Which of us cannot empathise with that? The greatest enduring conundrum for any adult is how on earth we once learned to tie our shoe laces – and quite how anyone explained it to us.
The Skills Tree is an inspired development which will be adopted widely elsewhere. It will benefit children in their learning, their employability and their management of their lives. The self-questioning analytic methodology will become instinctive in whatever they do and will give them a level of control and task management many would not develop without this experience.
In use at Kilmodan it is proving not only valuable but widely popular and valued. We asked one parent with two daughters at the school, how ‘his girls’ were getting on with it. The answer was: ‘They love it. All 3 of them.’
And if the TES description of Aileen Goodall as an ‘education development officer’ means that she is employed as a ‘Quality Improvement Officer’ then she has proved their potential worth, she has generated genuine improvement – and this is a far more grounded title for the concept of her job.
Update: Reader Walter Burton sent us this link to a downloadable Enterprise Newsletter from Argyll and Bute Council: This contains more information within in on this project.gthe information at the end also establishes that Aileen Goodall is an Educational Development Officer – not a Quality Improvement Officer. This keeps the pressure on the question of just what the very many QIOs at Argyll and Bute council actually do and whether that is worth what it costs us. And how many Education Development Officers are there?