Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge – how one school found a balanced approach


Following Andreas Schleicher’s keynote at Whole Education’s Annual Conference 2018, one school leader and Whole Education Board member reflects on how his school implemented a ‘whole education’ curriculum.

Whole Education’s mission is to help young people to develop the range of skills, qualities and knowledge they need to succeed and thrive in life, learning and work. It was this mission that led Shenley Brook End to join the network in 2012.

To misquote a line from the movie Jerry Maguire, ‘You had me at…skills.’

Our school had felt it was ploughing a lonely furrow through its development of a learning and assessment framework emphasising the overlap and transferability of Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge (ASK). To find a network promoting this approach in an increasingly knowledge and outcomes focused environment was inspiring and affirming. Especially helpful was connecting with similarly aspirational schools, like-minded colleagues with a strong belief that positive outcomes were the by-product of a great education and not its sole focus, that school should be a place where young people acquire both great qualifications and great qualities.

The ASK framework

If you are considering developing an ‘ASK’ approach, I believe it works best as a process to develop rather than a package to adopt. Our debates in school between staff, students and governors truly informed and refined our consideration of the attitudes, skills and knowledge we would want our students to develop.

The attitudes – the word selected by students above attributes – were described as the 5Cs: Curiosity, Creativity, Communication, Consistency and Cooperation.

The skills development aspect had an overarching heading but was contextualised by subject. It is known as TENSILE- ‘capable of being stretched’- standing for;

  • Teamwork
  • Expression
  • Numeracy
  • Solving problems
  • Independence
  • Literacy
  • Enquiry.

Our clarification of the possible attitudes to learning transformed our formative assessment and dialogue with parents. The framework entered students’ language – my favourite example being, “Sir, I was well Tensile today!”

The area of knowledge was subject specific, and along with the new specifications led to the rewriting of our curriculum maps and a broader opportunity to discuss common approaches, transferable skills and the timing of key assessments.

I believe this framework has helped us sustain a positive learning culture among the anxiety of curriculum and assessment change. It has also supported students in becoming reflective learners, enhancing their readiness both for the challenges of new exams and new experiences beyond school.


Delivering a ‘whole education’ curriculum is getting harder. Radical curriculum and assessment change, accountability change (progress 8 and English Baccalaureate), financial pressures, and recruitment and retention challenges all understandably lead schools to focus on the quality of outcomes, often at the expense of the quality of the process.

The OECD framework, the future and more

It was fascinating to hear Andreas Schleicher argue for an ASK approach at Whole Education’s 2018 Annual Conference. The OECD’s own 2030 Learning Framework prioritises wider skills, knowledge and qualities, as well as individual and societal wellbeing.

Andreas argued the UK should not be making such an approach more difficult to achieve at a time when technological, social and economic change make it ever more important. Post- Brexit, we should ask how to provide young people with the most fruitful educational provision as they complete in-school learning and prepare for future learning, life and work.

Perhaps an ASK approach is part of the answer. Perhaps the emerging consensus in the UK around the need for a broad, rounded education for all learners will continue to grow. Or perhaps our system will continue to travel in the opposite direction to most OECD countries.

The Whole Education network believes that every young person should have an education worth having. A balanced emphasis on qualities, skills and knowledge should surely be at its heart.

Chris Holmwood is Senior Deputy Headteacher at Shenley Brook End School in Milton Keynes and Principal of its Leadership and Training Centre. He is a member of the Board of Whole Education.

Watch Andreas’ livestreamed keynote at Whole Education’s Annual Conference below:

Alternate, longer version (sounds starts from approx 1:05)

Panel discussion following Andreas’ keynote with: Lord Jim Knight, Robin Banerjee, Neil Carberry, Valerie Hannon and Rachel Tomlinson


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