Soft Skills and Enterprise Skills

Within one to two weeks, systems, schools and communities across the country will engage with the media frenzy of examination results and ATARs.

Excellent HSC results (in New South Wales) are promoted by many as indicators of success and they often form part of a school or system’s marketing campaign. One of Catholic education’s leading data analysts, Dr John DeCourcy, continually reminds us that test scores are in fact, lagging indicators of success. We keep reading about the need for students to develop their ‘soft skills’, their ‘enterprise skills’ or their ’21st century skills’ so they can function in, and contribute towards a changing world. However, there will be very little heard or read about these skills  when HSC results and ATARs are released in a few weeks.

Education leaders are now challenged to bring soft skills and enterprise skills to prominence because they are leading indicators of success which will assist students to function in and contribute towards a rapidly changing world, not just in the future, but today!

The good news is that within NSW syllabus documents there are outcomes which directly relate to soft skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationships. Furthermore, there are enterprise skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity found within Key Learning Area (KLA) outcomes.  I acknowledge the measurement soft skills and enterprise skills is more difficult than identifying growth of literacy and numeracy or exam results. However, if we deepen parent, student and teacher understanding of how soft skills and enterprise skills develop over time, and what that looks like, together we will increasingly develop our ability to observe, reflect and critique the skills which are not easily measurable.

Although many soft skills are ‘hidden’ within a KLA outcomes approach as part of an ‘A to E’ reporting environment, the NSW syllabus documents are a great starting point. Further to this, the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities are also an excellent reference point.

Australian Curriculum General Capabilities

Given that all seven domains support the development of soft skills and enterprise skills, there are three domains which are particularly relevant. They are:

  • Information and communication technology – using technology to access information, create products and solve problems.
  • Critical and creative thinking – learning how to think and find ways to approach problems.
  • Personal and social – recognising others’ emotions, supporting diversity and working together.

These domains are expressed through learning continuums. The Critical and Creative Thinking continuum, the Personal and Social continuum and the Information and Communication Technology continuum are excellent reference points for teachers, parents and students. Given the opportunity, I know students can rise to the challenge of finding evidence to demonstrate their progress along these continuums. Maybe that’s the problem, there are not enough policy makers and education leaders who trust students to drive and understand their own learning through self assessment and reflection.

It will be a watershed moment for schools and education systems when the prominence of soft skills and enterprise skills are as mainstream as KLA assessments and public test scores. Due to the disruptive changes to our world, some of which have already arrived, the focus will change, it has to! For the sake of our students, hopefully that time will arrive sooner rather than later.

As always, your feedback and comments are more than welcome as they assist with my learning.


Authentic Personalised Learning

Produced using Canva
As the principal of a new learning community establishing the new normal for pre to post schooling, I am obligated to collaboratively explore options for a flexible and differentiated curriculum which is authentically personalised through collaborative processes led, driven and developed by each student.
When in Melbourne last week, I visited three schools. Each school views students as as the drivers of their own learning, not having learning ‘done’ to them. One school in particular, Templestowe College, genuinely hands over ‘control’ to each student, and “everything is negotiable”. The automatic response to students when they negotiate their semester learning program is to say, “Yes, we can look at that.” This culture of trusting students to direct their own learning, along with an unwavering commitment to flexible timetables and diverse curriculum offerings, has resulted in students who, among other things:
  • serve as traditional staff employees including grounds personnel, teacher assistants and front office support staff, AND, they are paid! 
  • train other students to deliver a reading preparation program for primary students
  • participate in the local community as professional musicians
  • market an online game to an overseas investor 
  • tender for the provision of on site cafe services
  • engage in elite sporting programs
  • provide catering and hospitality services for local community events after a tendering process
  • organise business conferences using school facilities
  • establish business which sell products based on business proposals and marketing plans 
  • establish animal breeding programs in liaison with relevant government authorities
  • use maker spaces, laser cutters and three D printers to design products that support emerging business ventures.
All these activities form part of a student’s ‘timetable’ and they are just the tip of the iceberg! The school offers an extremely varied curriculum with authentically rich individual learning pathways. Personalised learning is truly authentic! Individual learning pathways are developed by the student, inclusive of parents and signed off by the principal. This is done so in accordance with Clause 82 of the Victorian Curriculum Accreditation Authority. It reads as follows….
“If a school proposes for any student an individual learning program that departs from the provision model set out in the whole-school curriculum plan, that decision should be made in conjunction with the student and the student’s parents/carers, and must be approved by the school principal” Victoria Curriculum December 2015
The principal has cleverly interpreted that each student is entitled to determine their own individual learning program. I am wondering if there is a similar clause in NSW. For example, although it applies for students with disabilities, is the collaborative curriculum planning process for students a ‘way in’ for each and every student to develop their own personalised learning pathway? One part that jumps out at me is…….. 
“The decision should be made through the collaborative curriculum planning process involving the student, parent/carer and other significant individuals. School systems and individual schools are responsible for the manner in which the collaborative process is managed.” 
In accepting that no two learners are the same, is the collaborative curriculum planning process a ‘way in’ for personalised learning to become a reality for each and every student in New South Wales?
Feedback welcome.

The ‘Non-Negotiables’ of Next Generation Learning.

As a part of my recent work I have visited a number of schools. Among many things, I have enjoyed listening to students confidently articulate “where I am with my learning” and “where to next”. With regards to reading, written expression and other core skills of listening and speaking, students know precisely their capabilities. They are also acutely aware of their ability to use other core skills, for example, graphing in Mathematics, mapping in Geography and, of course, their ability to use apps to demonstrate their learning. However, as good as they can articulate their strengths and areas for further development, they are less sure of “where they are at” and “where to next” as a collaborator, creator, thinker, team player or problem solver.

A key indicator of when next generation learning has arrived will be when students can self-assess, peer assess, record and report about the ‘non-negotiables’; those ’21st century skills’, often called ‘soft skills’, that are now undeniably required for students to be happy people and successful workers enjoying their vocation based around their passion. On a side note, I don’t think there is anything “soft” about the perseverance and effort required, for example, to be a critical thinker and problem solver as part of a group of individuals all of whom possess different abilities and interests.

Don’t get me wrong, as I have already stated, I am impressed with how students articulate their learning. I am also encouraged by leaders in schools who ensure there are references to skills such as creativity, collaboration, communication and team work as a part of their formal assessment and reporting. However, it is not yet mainstream for schools to assess and report (I would rather the words “observe and feedback”) to parents about the ‘non-negotiables’.


Next generation learning leaders will  engage with parents (some are already) about the importance of the ‘non-negotiables’. The better leaders will do this so convincingly that parents will no longer ask, “Where is my child placed?”, “What mark did they get?” or “How many grades did they jump?” In fact, a success indicator of next generation learning is the day when parents more often ask….

  • “How is my child collaborating?”
  • “What did they create today?”
  • “How are their presentation skills developing?”
  • “What problem did my child solve?”

I look forward to that day.


Is coding the ’21st century writing’?

Last week I attended a professional learning day where I was introduced to Code Club Australia, a network of coding clubs for Aussie Kids aged 9 – 11 which uses ScratchIan Wedlock facilitated the day and I was impressed with his calm but assured belief in the learning benefits associated with coding. As part of his presentation he:

  • Asked participants to “think origami – follow sequential instructions and be precise.”
  • Reminded us of instances when programming goes wrong by showing The Breakfast Machine and The Lipstick Machine. Quite funny.
  • Introduced us to Rube Goldberg machines which “require all the coding skills without the technology”. 

Whilst sharing these and other resources, Ian confirmed that coding, in particular Scratch, allows students to program interactive stories, games and animations which requires them to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively; all important 21st century skills.

The discourse around coding in schools is, in part, prompted by predictions that 40 to 55% of current jobs will be made redundant by technology within the next 10 years. In a world where robots could be performing one third of U.S. surgeries by 2021 and where a robot arm builds a house in just two days, future jobs will increasingly require employees to create and program those robots. Coding is a good starting point for that to be a possibility for a significant number of our young people.

Matt Resnick articulates the benefits of coding for young people in Let’s Teach Kids to Code (16 mins). With reference to Scratch he outlines the benefits of coding for young people code so they can do more than just use new tech toys; they can also create them. However, what resonates with me the most are the analogies Resnick makes with reading and writing.

Firstly, he points out that it is useful for everyone to read and write, and whilst these skills will be useful in almost everything not everyone will become a professional writer or resident book reviewer. And so it is with coding. When people learn to code they simplify complex ideas, collaborate, fix things and persevere in the face of frustration, that’s called resilience! Such skills and dispositions will be transferrable to almost all aspects of future work.

And secondly, Resnick reminds the viewer that the actions of browsing, chatting, texting and gaming do not make young people digitally fluent. For those who can use technology applications to ‘create’, they are digitally fluent. However, for those who cannot, “It is almost as if they can read but not write with new technologies.”

As I tweeted during the day with Ian,

Maybe I got that a little wrong.  So before publishing this blog, I tweeted….

Tweet 2

As always, I welcome your comments.


A modernised HSC may have to go

Just last week the next iteration of a modernised HSC was released by the New South Wales government. Unfortunately, it appears to be ‘dressing up the old’. I wonder if those who managed the process which led to its publication

Capture 2

(via @HealthyLDN as reposted by @nickya73 on Twitter, 26 July, 2016)

As part of the media promotions that come with such government announcements, it was promised the new HSC would be setting students up for success. New pathways for post school are required because the HSC is a lagging indicator of school success rather than a leading indicator for life success.

Executive Director of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, Greg Whitby reflected that the new HSC was simply modernising educational relics and stated,

“The HSC reforms really are a missed opportunity to bring some coherence to educational policy and radically rethink how we assess the spectrum of students’ learning and skills.”

Greg also asked, “Where is the New Thinking?” Well, here are some thoughts….

  • Pre-school becomes part of the K-12 learning continuum by allowing resources, funding and structures to ‘cross the divide’ of those very definitive and separated entities. This may mean breaking with current regulations and, for example, actually paying early learning teachers the same as primary school teachers. It may also see ‘Junior Kindy’ and ‘Senior Kindy’ exist over two years so that Kindergarten is a stage rather than a year.
  • Observe and report on social and emotional outcomes for Kindergarten and Stage 1 students as often as literacy, numeracy and other KLA outcomes are assessed and reported. Oh heck, why not do this until students conclude Year 4?
  • Have leading indicators for life success, as discussed in data and questions, shape a data informed, strengths based coaching program for students in stages 3 to 6. Using various data sources, each student would identify their interests, abilities and passions and link them to vocations and jobs of the future. Maybe the 75 minutes per week of pastoral care time which exists in most secondary schools could be redirected towards this?
  • Develop an enterprise skills continuum, by delivering the ‘The New Basics‘ and embedding ‘enterprise rubrics’ into mainstream schooling. Those 8 skills as determined by (see picture below) could be observed and assessed through self assessment, peer feedback and teacher conversation rather than through the judgement of a test mark or grade. Wouldn’t it be great if assessing and reporting on these skills were as mainstream as outcomes based KLA assessment and reporting?

Enterprise Skills

  • Lastly, have multiple school exit points of which the HSC is but just one exit. However, that’s a whole other conversation!

Of course, for each of the above suggestions (or others like them) something has to go. In an already packed curriculum serving the needs of a government economic agenda, there is not one more ‘priority’ which can be squeezed into the school day. Something, or some things have to go. I suggest the modernised HSC is one of them.

I welcome your feedback, comments and/or constructive criticism.





A Longer School Day?


With more than 380,000 students aged 5 to 12 attending our of hours school care, and unmet demand for another 80 000 children as estimated by the the Australian ­Bureau of Statistics, the call for schools to offer services ‘above and beyond’ the normal school day continue to grow. For quite some time now, the rise of single parenting and working families has challenged the 1950s’ construct of the 9 to 3 school day. A few months back, Federal Minister for Education, Simon Bermingham, was quoted in The Australian as saying he was “open to longer school day” In that same article, there are references to schools providing services beyond the traditional school day.

Across Australia, there are already a number of ‘services’ both ‘within’ and ‘outside’ the school day. These services are offered in the form of early learning centres, primary schools, secondary schools and  K-12 learning communities.(I am uneasy with the term ‘services’, especially when linked to primary and secondary school; however, I use it for the purposes of this blog). Furthermore, and to complement these educational offerings there are out of school hour care centres. 

As part of recent conversations with my work, I have become aware of the different regulations and requirements for school settings as distinct from early learning centres, as distinct from long day care providers, as distinct from out of school hour care centres. In recent times there has been great effort and noted success in raising the standard of early learning, reflective of its importance, as there has been with out of school hours care. Despite these successes, the various educational offerings act as separate entities and ‘bolt-ons’ rather than integrated services. There is great work being done within each educational entity; however, the reality is they are not integrated. 

The idea of an extended school day responds to the needs of families to have children cared for in a way which supersedes the 1950’s school construct. We can challenge the idea of ‘what the school day looks like’ by providing an experience focused on learning which looks different and better for each student and family. However, how do we do this without providing more work for teachers and staff across all sectors? Another question might be, “How much more is the education sector expected to do?”

The conversation about an extended school day poses many questions. A third question, but with a more positive spin…..”Is there an opportunity to provide quality pre to post school learning with services connected in a way which acknowledges learning as a continuum and transcends the traditional boundaries of time and space?”

If we are to extend the school day, the answer is not more of the same with longer learning blocks as part longer days with more face to face for teachers. We need to be more creative than that! I suppose, my inquiry really is…..

…. In what ways can extending the school day provide integrated services which offer an all inclusive, learning focused approach to the school day?

There may be learning communities already doing this. If so, please let me know.

I look forward to feedback, questions and comments.




New pathways to ‘post school’ required.

I recently  spoke with Colin Klupiec from Learn Fast in my capacity as the newly appointed Principal Leader at St Luke’s, Marsden Park. Colin’s professionalism, deep knowledge of Australian education and strong desire for a ‘new paradigm for learning’, meant that I enjoyed our time discussing the future of education in Australia within the one local context of St Luke’s.

St Luke’s is a (soon to be established) ‘next generation’ learning community. As part of the conversation Colin and I discussed ways to blur the finish line of schooling. Currently, that finish line is when the vast majority of young people conclude their formal education at the end of Year 12, around mid-December each year. In NSW, the checkered flag waves frantically for 24 hours with the release of HSC results followed by the release of the ATAR* the next day.

ATARs have increasingly become less meaningful as expressed in a recent article ‘Not in our national interest’: Universities slammed over ATAR leniency’ by Eryk Bagshaw.  Universities have compromised tertiary entry standards in pursuit of growing enrolments. Increasing ATAR offer rates below 50 has been one of many approaches.

ATARs below 50

Whilst the number of university degrees is increasing, the value of a university degree is in decline. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, of bachelor degree graduates who were available for full-time employment in 2000, 83.6 per cent were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degrees in 1999. Since then, the trend has been….

  • in 2005, 80.9 per cent were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degrees.
  • in 2010,  76.2 per cent were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degrees.
  • In 2015,  68.8 per cent were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degrees.

It may well be that there are now more university degrees for less jobs or it may be that employers are looking further afield than the traditional degrees as evidenced by FYA’s most recent report. Employers in Australia are increasingly advertising for people who exhibit the ‘New Basics’ of Digital Literacy, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Problem Solving.

Enterpise Skills

Reading between the lines of the report, and with reference to Jim Bright’s article below, it appears employers may be unsure of how HSC results or  an ATAR number assists an employer to ascertain a prospective employee’s capability in these areas.

SMH Article

In the interests of best preparing our students for the future which awaits them, it is now time to look at more flexible post school pathways other than just the HSC and ATARs. These pathways would see students:

  • make links with industry by showing their work through their online presence, one which connects with experts across the world; OR,
  • create their own start up business in Year 8, 9 or 10 (possibly after many failed attempts) by asking them the question, “What problem do you want to solve?”; OR,
  • assisted by their wider learning community (not just school) to develop the skills for the surprising jobs of today.

I welcome your thoughts.


* The ATAR is The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is the primary criterion for entry into most undergraduate-entry university programs in Australia. It was gradually introduced during 2009 and 2010 to replace the Universities Admission Index, Equivalent National Tertiary Entrance Rank and Tertiary Entrance Rank.