THE NATIONAL YOUTH AGENCY: Comment - Asking the right questions

By HILARY SPIERS

| 29 January 2003

So, Education and Skills Secretary Charles Clarke has launched a national competition to find the top five life skills that all young people should be able to master by the age of 16. He says that whether it's changing a plug for the fairy lights or helping cook the family roast, some skills are useful to help young people get on in life.

He is encouraging people - young and old - to email in with their top five life skills to lifeskillscompetition@dfes.gsi.gov.uk (be quick though - he wants them by the end of January) with the winning entrant being treated to a personal tour of the House of Commons. Leaving aside the attraction of a prize that is hardly likely to set most people's pulses racing, is the Minister on the right lines?

If you don't know how to change a plug, you can always ask or persuade someone to show you how. If you don't know how to roast a chicken, Delia (or a member of the family) can be consulted. Across a wide range of activities and life skills, what matters most is the ability either to read or to know who to ask or where to look.

Schools may teach (most) of us to read, but the attention paid to the things that help you get on in life - conversation, self presentation, how to construct - and win - an argument - are in most educational settings unfortunately (and given a crowded academically-focused curriculum, understandably) given scant attention.

The ability to read, the ability to find things out, good communication skills, powers of persuasion and negotiation (what youth workers might describe as emotional intelligence): these life skills would stand most of us in pretty good stead.

Remember an advert that ran with the slogan: 'I know a man who can'?

If the least we achieved was to help young people identify who the appropriate man (or woman) is and how to engage in a dialogue to get the desired result, we might be on the right tracks, British baccalaureate or no.

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