• Key Skills

  • Key skills are the skills that people need in order to operate confidently and successfully in school, college, university, work, training, and life in general.

    There are six key skills:

    • Communication
    • Application of Number
    • Information and Communication Technology.
    • Working with Others
    • Improving own Learning and Performance
    • Problem Solving.

    They are all available as qualifications at levels 1 to 4 of the Qualifications and Credit Framework. That means that Level 1 is roughly the same level as GCSE grade D to G or QCF Level 1, Level 2 is about the level of GCSE A* to C or QCF Level 2 and Level 3 is about the same level as AS, A level or QCF Level 3.

    The first three key skills are assessed through a portfolio of work (which is assessed internally at a school, college or training provider) and by an external test (which is marked by an awarding body). The wider key skills are also assessed through an internally assessed portfolio, sometimes supported by questioning by an assessor. There is no test.

    The key skills and the assessment system are the same whether you are at school, college, in employment (perhaps doing an apprenticeship) or studying independently.

    There are three main reasons why it is helpful to do key skills.

    • The First reason is they help develop the skills that are needed to get good grades in the qualifications studied for, whether they are GCSEs, AS or A levels, technical certificates or any other qualification.
    • The second reason is the value they will a job is applied for or a university application.
    • The third reason is their value for those at work, in training, or studying for a degree.

    The First reason

    Key skills underpin everything done, at school, at college, at work and at home.

    • People are communicating all the time.
    • People use ICT more and more every day.
    • Numbers are at the heart of much of what is done at school, at college, at home and at work.
    • Those who work well with others, are well organised, and seem to be able to tackle their problems effectively are the people who get on best in their studies, get the good grades, and get on well at work and in life in general.

    The Second reason

    Applying for a job

    In recent surveys of employers, they said that they were looking for applicants who:

    • can communicate effectively, including with customers
    • can work in teams, with good interpersonal skills
    • can solve problems
    • are numerate
    • have good ICT skills
    • are willing and able to learn
    • are flexible in their approach to work.

    If someone aims to do an apprenticeship when they leave school or college, they will find that key skills are compulsory. As part of an Apprenticeship, apprentices have to get Communication and Application of Number at Level 1, plus any other key skills that the particular apprenticeship framework requires. For an Advanced Apprenticeship, apprentices have to get those two key skills at Level 2, plus any others that the framework requires. So it must make sense to get them “in the bag” before apprentices start the training programme.

    Applying to university

    Key skills can also help students get into university.

    There are UCAS points for all six key skills, as follows:

    Level 2 – 10 points

    Level 3 – 20 points

    Level 4 – 30 points

    So, if a student gets three key skills at Level 3, they will have 60 points, which is the same points value as an AS at grade A or an A level at grade D.

    Evidence of key skills achievements is specifically called for in Section 7 of the UCAS form.

    Most universities emphasise the value of key skills in their entry profiles, particularly Communication and Improving Own Learning and Performance, even if they don’t always use the same names for them. Many degree courses include key skills development, and some universities find that they have to lay on special courses to help their students get up to the standard of English, Maths and ICT that they need. If you have achieved key skills, you are less likely to have to attend these courses.

    The Third reason

    There is plenty of evidence that people who are good at communicating (both in writing and in talking) and at handling numbers and ICT, work well with other people, are well organised, and can tackle the problems that life throws at them, tend to be both happier and more successful.

    What if your staff have already got GCSEs in English and Maths.

    What’s different about key skills?

    The difference is in how your staff use them. What they learned in GCSE English, Maths and maybe ICT may have helped with their other subjects, and with life in general, but that wasn’t their main purpose. The point of key skills is that they are applies in other studies and at work, to get results. Key skills should be used with a purpose – to get things done. GCSEs give you the underpinning techniques; key skills show how they can be used.