Generic Skills Summary

Download 101,68 Kb.
Date conversion05.08.2018
Size101,68 Kb.
Sutton Coldfield College
Supported Experiment Proposal

Generic Skills


Some colleges have got pretty spectacular results by reducing the time taken to deliver the content aspects of the syllabus/unit, so that they can spend more time teaching the skills required for success in their subject. These subject specific skills are called ‘Generic Skills’ and include for example essay or assignment writing, evaluating a case study, giving a well reasoned evaluation of an argument etc.
These ‘Generic Skills’ are identified, and strategies such as direct teaching of the skills, help sheets, self-assessment, assessment proformas etc are used to develop them.
This is an ambitious Action Research Project. If you wish, you can first do the Projects on Assessment Proformas and Self-assessment, as these are both part of this bigger Project.
Contact Geoff Petty if you are interested in this and find out how other teachers have approached it. He has lots of example materials you could adapt.
If you want to do it differently to this proposal – that’s fine of course! But do let me know your approach so I can pass your ideas on to others.

Action Research Project

Generic Skills


How to get a pass rate of 100%, with 90% grades A to C!

Geoff Petty

Learning Development Manager

How to get a pass rate of 100%, with 90% grades A to C!

Every year FEDA (now LaSDA) funds Action Research Development Projects in about 100 colleges. Sutton Coldfield College has contributed two excellent Projects to this series.
The improvement in results produced by two of these Projects got me thinking
Solihull 6th Form College: A level History, 350 students
1995 pass rate: 81% with 46% A to C grades

1998 pass rate: 94% with 67% A to C grades

Brockenhurst College A level Sociology 38 students
1997 pass rate: 84% with 51% A to C grades

1999 pass rate: 100% with 90% A to C grades

What is interesting about these projects is that they adopted a very similar strategy. They both developed subject specific thinking skills such as essay writing skills (Generic Skills). Also they both used assessment proformas to give medal and mission style feedback to their students.
Although these were both GCE A levels, exactly the same strategy of teaching subject specific Generic Skills could be used on a VCE A level, or indeed on any course.
Teaching Generic Skills: the Brockenhurst and Solihull strategy

Many teachers take curriculum content and use this exclusively to create their scheme of work. Generic skills are not given much emphasis because they are not ‘on the syllabus’. It is hoped these skills will be ‘picked up’ from feedback on essays, homeworks, and assignments, and from induction sessions on essay writing and so on.

Take for example a skill such as planning and writing an essay. Exam marks are given for such generic skills as:

  • relating each argument in the essay to the essay question

  • giving arguments both ‘for’ and ‘against’

  • giving evidence, examples or illustrations for each argument cited

  • prioritising the arguments for and against, and evaluating them.

  • drawing a justified conclusion

  • etc.

Such skills can be taught directly. They can form the basis for essay planning proformas, for self-assessment proformas, and/or a teacher’s assessment proforma. See the example below.

In short these difficult skills can be taught directly by continuous practice and corrective feedback.




Teacher assessment

Did you relate each of your arguments to the essay question?

Did you give arguments both ‘for’ and ‘against’?

Did you give enough evidence, examples, and illustrations for each of your arguments?

Did you prioritise the arguments for and against, and evaluate them?

Did you draw a justified conclusion related directly to the essay title?

Improvements needed for this essay

Targets for the next essay

Each subject has its own specific Generic skills, though there is much overlap between subjects. Some examinations are structured so that each year they repeatedly require very specific skills such as precis, comprehension, critique of experimental design etc. These skills can be developed in the same way.

Some teachers have an exclusively ‘content focused’ approach. Syllabus content fills their teaching schemes and is the focus of most of their feedback. With this content focus, the more demanding and important a skill, the less likely it is to be taught.
Most teachers adopt a ‘content and skills’ approach. The skills required for success are carefully identified, taught, and are the basis for much of the feedback and action planning, even thought the skills are often not identified specifically on the syllabus. Solihull and Brockenhust seem to have shown us that:

  • putting more time and emphasis on skills, and reducing the time and emphasis on content, can produce a dramatic improvement in results

  • A’ level results are not entirely determined by the quality of the student intake. Improvement, even from a strong starting position, is possible.

Solihull Sixth Form College: History GCE ‘A’ level

Raising Quality and Achievement Development Project: Round 1.


In any year they have about 350 students studying towards ‘A’ level history
1995 pass rate: 81% with 46% A to C grade

1998 pass rate: 94% with 67% A to C grade


  • Transfer to modular syllabi with assessed coursework

  • Identification of particular learning skills required for success in History A-levels eg reasoning for and against the proposition in an essay title, essay planning and writing etc.

  • the creation of proformas and learning materials to help students develop such skills.

  • Adoption of a common framework for giving feedback to students.

  • Positive initial comments

  • A maximum of three or four clear instructions for improvements in the next piece of work

  • A final encouraging comment

  • Students receive feedback in class, then create plans for improvement in next piece of work

  • Self assessment

  • Differentiation:

  • Individual targets;

  • value added predictions;

  • More active teaching strategies

More pair and group work, balloon debates, role-plays etc

Heavy emphasis on preparation of essay plans including discussion and display of mind-map style essay plans

Development of study skills

  • Sharply focused revision programme

The two essay planning proformas that follow were used on the Solihull Project.

Write the question here:

For the key Instruction words:

How far’ ‘How successfully’

To what extent’ ‘Assess’

Discuss’ ‘Do you agree’

Yes/agree arguments



No/disagree arguments

Priority order

Now choose a two-part

or simultaneous approach
Are there enough links

between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’

arguments to allow a

simultaneous approach
Now find

examples/evidence to back

up each of your arguments

(History essay-planning proforma copied from a form by Solihull Sixth Form College. See:, choose Development Projects, then choose Solihull college to see the full report.)


  • Key ‘instruction’ words?

  • Therefore type of question?

  • Any terms/names/dates need explaining?


First sentence of first paragraph

(Have you made your key point?)

Development/explanation of point?

Evidence to support your argument?




Check: Have you referred back to the question/linked the point explicitly to the question?

Link to next paragraph/point?

First sentence of second paragraph

Have you made your key point?

Development/explanation of the point?

Evidence to support your argument?




Check: Have you referred back to the question/linked the point explicitly to the question?

Link to next paragraph point?

(History essay-planning proforma copied from a form by Solihull Sixth Form College. See:, choose Development Projects, then choose Solihull college to see the full report.)

Brockenhurst College: Sociology GCE ‘A’ level

Raising Quality and Achievement Development Project: Round 1.

Many teachers find that GCSE does not provide students with all the skills they need for ‘A’ level. This Development Project set out to teach the skills needed directly.
Students had five hours a week for Sociology, one of which was used to develop ‘sociological skills’. This involved a programme of lectures on study skills, essay writing, note taking, and, in considerable depth, sociological models and theory etc.
Also, an assessment proforma was used in marking essays.
Before this strategy:

1997 – 84% pass, 51% with grades A,B or C. (37 completers)

1999 – 100% pass 90% with grades A, B. or C (40 completers)
The ‘ALIS’ residual (the difference between the actual grade a student achieves and the predicted grade based on the student’s GCSE grades) went from 0.2 to 0.5 standardised, (0.8 not standardised), showing a very considerable improvement in ‘value added’.
As in Solihull, this improvement may have multiple causes so beware over-interpretation, but student feedback suggested that the strategies were beneficial.

Discussion on Solihull and Brockenhurst

With so many changes it is not easy to determine which of the initiatives in each college had the greatest effect, or whether they were all equally important. However syllabus changes of themselves could hardly guarantee such excellent results, and comparing the two studies suggests that it might be the teaching of generic skills such as thinking skills and essay writing that really made the difference. In particular, the following strategies were common to the two studies:

  • student self-assessment,

  • assessment and essay planning proformas (Solihull’s are attached)

  • medal and mission feedback leading to action planning for improvement,

  • concentration on subject specific reasoning skills.


How about experimenting with these ideas? Is anybody interested? If so please let me know and I will make contact Geoff Petty Learning Development Manager tel 5416 Room 142.
For details of the two studies cited go to and choose ‘development projects’ then choose Solihull or Brockenhurst College. You can then download the case study, though the Solihull proformas in this document are not included in the download.

Teaching Generic Skills

We all do some of this, but research shows that if we did more, results would improve:

In your teaching team, identify the generic skills that are crucial for success in your subject or Qualification Aim (QA). E.g.:

  • Subject-specific skills e.g. essay/assignment planning and writing

  • Skills required by your QA’s particular assessment requirements e.g. doing a precis; SWOT analysis of a strategy; drawing graphs, designing experiments… See past papers, Examiner’s Reports, Examiner’s marking schemes etc

  • Prior learning required for early success in your subject/QA.

It takes time but you could carry out a Curriculum Skills Analysis (Topic 1 sec4 part 2 of the Inclusive Learning materials)

Still in your teaching team, and for each main generic skill:

Describe the PROCESS you expect students to use on a one page handout if this will help them.

e.g. write a handout on how to plan an essay


  • flow diagrams and/or mindmaps of the process

  • planning proformas to assist students (see examples attached)

  • student self-assessment on how they use this process

  • write assignment tasks in terms of this process. E.g. set proof-reading etc as an assignment task

  • Teach the process explicitly. Give yourself time to check work in progress and give feedback

  • Induction activities

Describe the PRODUCT you expect students to produce i.e. the qualities and characteristics of good work

  • Assessment criteria

  • Self-assessment against the assessment criteria (followed by:)

  • Teacher assessment against the assessment criteria

  • Assessment proformas or competences

  • Use the above to develop targets for improvement, Targets or Feed-forward tasks, corrections, action plans etc.

  • examples of good practice

  • examples of bad practice

  • Activities to evaluate examples of moderate performance. e.g. students criticise an essay

Develop a whole team approach to teaching generic skills e.g.

  • Plan induction activities on generic skills

  • Put generic skill teaching onto the scheme of work, giving it time

  • Share handouts; assignments for students to ‘mark’; exemplars; etc

  • Agree common approaches, assessment proformas, expectations, and terminology

What follows are examples only. You will need to adapt these substantially to your context, and to meet the needs of your students. You will need to add detail too.

Geoff Petty 2001

Report writing process: Help Sheet

GNVQ Health and Social Care team

Read think and plan

Read the assignment brief or title and make sure you understand it thoroughly. Re-read it often. What will it include? Where could you find information?

When must you hand it in? Plan the report writing process.

Research and brainstorm

Gather information relevant to the topic


Library; CD Rom; internet; visits; ask people; etc Re-read the assignment brief!

Check relevance

Check your information for relevance. Reread the assignment brief.

Plan the report

Make a mind-map or series of headings based on your classification stage. Make notes of what you want to say. Make sure you do all the tasks or questions.

Write the report, then leave it for day or so

Proof-read the report making changes where necessary

Present the report (one time!)
se this process for all reports in all units. When you can use this process well, write your report without this helpsheet, but still using the process.


Use an ordered set of headings or mindmaps to sort your information into groups. E.g:

  • topics and sub-topics,

  • strengths and weaknesses;

  • arguments for, and arguments against etc,

The categories you use will depend on the report title, so re-read it before you start classifying.

Draw conclusions and get evidence

What do you want your report to say? For example, what are the strengths and weaknesses of what you have been investigating?

  • Summarise your main conclusions

  • Get evidence for each of your conclusions

Self Assessment:

Health and Social Care: Report writing process



Self-assessment: including what you found most difficult

Read think and plan

Did you read the assignment often.

Did you Plan the report writing process?

Did you leave yourself time to do a good job?

Research and brainstorm

Did you gather enough relevant information using relevant sources such as the Library; CD Rom; internet; visits; asking people; etc?

Check relevance

Did you re-read the assignement and check your information for relevance?


Did you find an appropriate and logical way to group your material and ideas? E.g.

  • topics and sub-topics,

  • strengths and weaknesses;

  • arguments for, and against etc,

Draw conclusions and get evidence

Did you:

  • Summarise your main conclusions

  • Get evidence for each of your conclusions

Plan the report

Did you plan your report by making a mind-map or series of headings?

Did you note key points under these headings?

Proof-read the report

Did you leave the report after writing it and then proof read, and make changes?

Present the report

Did you present your report on time?

Learning points and action plan:

The Content Trap




includes both content and skills
e.g. teaching time is set aside for generic skills (not just at induction)

Could be up to 20% of teaching time.

Exam or other assessmentrequires both knowledge of content and skills

Teaching and learning

set by scheme of work.
E.g. Class time is set aside to teach Generic skills

Exam or other assessmen requires both knowledge of content and skills

Generic skills are identified

E.g. assignment or essay writing; evaluating a case study or experiment etc; subject specific reasoning skills; learning to learn etc.






Syllabus content

teaching and learning

(set by scheme of work)




defined by content

Syllabus content


Bad Practice: The above is the extreme case of exclusively didactic teaching. All teaching is fact based, and at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy. In practice teachers usually develop both skills and content. However, the proportion of teaching time spent on skills is often very low because there “isn’t enough time” i.e. content is seen as primary and skills secondary.

Best Practice. The teaching and learning involves the delivery of content, and the development of generic skills including high order thinking skills. Generic skills can only be developed by:

  • using student-centred teaching methods

  • instruction in, and corrected practice of the use of these skills

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page