Research and Development Series
Development of Transferable Skills
August 1993 Report No.18
A Technical Report published by the Employment
Department's Methods Strategy Unit
A recent ministerially driven initiative has identified a number
of skill areas which are 'core' across education, training and employment
settings. These are: communication, problem solving, personal skills,
numeracy, information technology and modern language competence.
Currently, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ)
are engaged in an extensive pilot programme to develop a system
of accreditation at five levels for each of these six Core Skill
areas (see Appendix 6).
This project, funded by the Employment Department, was concerned
· produce criteria with which to identify best practice
for enhancing the transferable skills implied by the NCVQ Core Skills
· identify current practice and know-how in all relevant
settings including schools, colleges, employment organisations and
other training providers;
· review, identify and illustrate best practice across education,
training and employment settings.
In view of the extensive scope of this project and the short timescale
(5 ½ months) we took a broad brush approach, relying heavily
upon the opinions of acknowledged experts to guide both the literature
analysis and identification of expert practitioners. The approach
involved five basic elements: establishing an expert network; reviewing
literature; designing a good practice survey; organising and running
a consultative workshop; visits to experts / practitioners.
Over 70 experts were consulted (see Appendix 1) and an enormous
quantity of research literature and practitioner reports were reviewed
(see Appendix 2). In order to gather both quantitative and qualitative
perspectives on Core Skills practice, a pro forma entitled 'Conditions
for the Effective Development of Core Skills' (Appendix 3) was designed.
This was based on examples of claimed good practice drawn from academic
and practitioner literature. Experts used the pro forma as a flexible
recording device to comment on the importance, ease of implementation
and frequency of occurrence for each good practice item. 41 pro
formas were completed and returned with representation from each
sector and Core Skill area (see Appendix 4). Whilst the sampling
was small scale, each expert gave a general impression about current
and best practice. In general the feedback on the pro formas was
remarkably consistent within each of the sectors and Core Skills
Throughout the project we noted confusion and disagreement between
practitioners and experts about Core skills and transfer issues.
Section three attempts to clarify this complex area. The NCVQ Core
Skill specifications represent a loose conceptual grouping of useful
knowledge, information and skills. All of the Core Skill items have
transfer value but some items are clearly more generic than others.
We emphasise that possession of the transferable skills does not
guarantee the ability to apply them in novel or demanding circumstances.
Thus, the NCVQ Core Skill specifications represent only a partial
contribution to promoting in learners the ability to transfer. Nevertheless,
the broader issues associated with teaching for transfer and the
promotion of flexibility, adaptability and autonomy can be addressed
successfully in the teaching / training context. Indeed, there is
a growing consensus in both practitioner and research literature
about the kinds of conditions and learning environments likely to
enhance teaching / training for transfer.
As section four reports, current practice in relation to Core Skill
development is somewhat depressing. There are many skilled practitioners
and researchers doing interesting and innovative work. There is
also a general consensus about what good practice involves. Nevertheless,
within education, training and employment settings, there is a gulf
between desirable and actual practice. Best practice is a rare commodity
even though experts constantly observe that much of what is desirable
is feasible to implement in most situations.
The survey identifies a number of reasons for this imbalance including:
organisational / institutional constraints; a failure to appreciate
how each of the various education and training initiatives fit together;
poor awareness about the value of Core Skills; teachers / lecturers
and trainers feeling ill equipped to deliver Core Skills because
of a lack of mediation skills and or inadequate resources; widespread
practitioner ignorance about the nature of transfer and the conditions
likely to foster the ability to transfer.
Section five provides provisional guidance notes on critical aspects
of good practice that are broad in scope, important and feasible
to implement. The advice is divided into three main sections:
A Organisational Planning and Support;
B Teaching and Learning;
C Assessing and Recording Learning.
Each section highlights, justifies and illustrates key points in
relation to various education, training and employment settings.
Section B pays special attention to teaching / training for transfer.
The ABC guide provides a framework for reflection and a basis for
auditing current practice with a view to establishing priorities
This report is designed for a restricted audience of national policy
makers. It is intended to provide a starting point for subsequent
documents and national guidance directed towards specific end users.
A further report is in preparation outlining priorities for research
and development on issues highlighted by this document.