POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Developing Non-Academic Skills

Published Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Non-academic skills exist alongside academic knowledge and abilities, and can include empathy, communication, and resilience. They have also been called 'life', 'non-cognitive' or 'essential' skills. Non-academic skills are associated with a range of positive outcomes across education, work, health and wellbeing, such as higher academic attainment, improved employability, and better physical and mental health. This POSTnote reviews evidence on the outcomes associated with non-academic skills and effective educational approaches to developing these skills in and out of the school environment.

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Although there is no universal definition, non-academic skills are generally considered to include attitudes and values, social and emotional skills, creative skills, and metacognitive skills (the skills used in thinking about thinking).  Isolating individual non-academic skills can be difficult as they interact and overlap with each other. They also work alongside traditional academic skills. For example, creative skills can be used in academic subjects, such as Art and Design. Non-academic skills are associated with a range of beneficial outcomes, such as positive self-image, increased empathy, and reduced levels of anti-social behaviour. Evidence on the outcomes of developing non-academic skills comes from randomised control trials (where individuals are randomly assigned interventions to improve their skills) and longitudinal studies, which track individuals' outcomes across their lifetimes. There has been more research on non-academic skills internationally, such as in the US, than in UK.

Key Points

  • Proficiency in non-academic skills (in particular, self-belief, motivation, and resilience) is associated with positive life outcomes, including improved academic attainment, employability, wellbeing, and physical and mental health.
  • Evidence on effective interventions in education is unclear as it can be difficult to isolate the effects of a programme from other factors (such as school culture) which may influence non-academic skills.
  • International research, mainly from the US, suggests that primary and secondary school teaching of non-academic skills can be effective.
  • Evidence suggests that non-academic skills are most effectively developed when schools adopt a ‘whole school’ approach, which includes classroom-based interventions, teacher training, embedding skills into school ethos, and engaging parents and the community.
  • Non-academic skills can also be developed outside of formal education through extra-curricular activities, work-experience, and parental involvement. However, young people from less economically privileged backgrounds may have reduced access to activities that develop these skills.

Acknowledgements

  • Aleisha Clarke & Stephanie Waddell, Early Intervention Foundation*
  • Alexandra Hernandez, Catholic Education Service*
  • Dr Alexander Turner, University of Manchester*
  • Professor Alison Park & Rob Davies, CLOSER*
  • Andy Case & Ken Jones, National Education Union*         
  • Dr Catherine Sebastian, Royal Holloway, University of London*
  • Catherine Sezen, Association for Colleges*
  • Dr Drew Whitworth, University of Manchester
  • Elaine Faull, University of Exeter & Alibi Theatre
  • Eliza Easton & Nancy Wilkinson, NESTA*
  • Elnaz Kashefpakdel, Education and Employers*
  • Ged Gast, National Society for Art and Design*
  • Gerard Dominguez Reig, Education Policy Institute
  • Dr Helen Demetriou, University of Cambridge*
  • Dr Jessie Ricketts, Royal Holloway*
  • John Dillon, PSHE Association*
  • Jonathan Arkless, Education Committee*
  • Professor Ingrid Schoon, University College London*
  • Professor Kristján Kristjánsson, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues*
  • Matthew van Poortvliet, Education Endowment Foundation*
  • Maxime Delattre & Tom Lyscom, British Academy for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Dr Michael Cross, Blue Mirror Insights*
  • Dr Michael Wigelsworth, University of Manchester*
  • Paul Collard, Creativity, Culture and Education
  • Rebecca Montecute & Carl Cullinane, The Sutton Trust*
  • Roary Pownall, OFSTED*
  • Robert Long, House of Commons Library*
  • Rose Atkins, University of Manchester
  • Rowan Ferguson & Andy Wolfe, Church of England Education Office*
  • Department for Education*
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy*
  • Northern Irish Assembly Research and Information Service*
  • Scottish Parliament Information Centre*
  • Welsh Assembly Research Service*
  • Scottish Government*
  • Welsh Government*

 *Denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.