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On occasions, when things aren’t going so well for a child, I’ll often find myself asking the question, ‘why have you come to school today?’ It’s a good question guaranteed to make a child think – and it will elicit a range of responses. The response in most cases is to say, ‘To learn?’, answered as a question to check whether they’re on the right lines. This gives me the opportunity to follow this up with, ‘to learn how to (insert bad behaviour choice)?’. It’s a routine that generally works quite well.

Given that children will be in school for around two and half thousand days, ‘Why have you come to school today?’ is a question worth considering. Over the years, I’ve refined my answer to just three things – to learn some skills (like how to read and write); to learn some facts; and to learn how to get on with people. I think this cover most bases.

A survey by the Confederation of British Industry found that on entering the world of work, graduates on the whole perform poorly in the areas of team-working and problem solving. This is probably not a surprise as over centuries, the British education system has been set up to teach pupils how to work individually. Look at our testing system – right the way through school pupils are assessed on how well they can perform in tests on their own.

This year the school will be working with the Institute of Education on a project created to develop children’s skills of collaboration. The starting point for this work is the observation that, in primary school classrooms children sit in groups, but rarely work as a group.

The team leading this research believe that not only do children need opportunities to practise collaborating, the skills and attitudes associated with effective collaboration can be taught. We are aiming to develop a set of materials that can be used to teach the skills of effective collaboration, and find ways to build opportunities for collaborative group work into our everyday classroom practice.

One of the tasks we will be doing as a staff is to come up with the collaborative tasks for children to help teach these skills. My favourite so far is a game called ‘Pay Rise’. Here, the class is introduced to a scenario where a crisp company makes a large profit on account of its new sock flavoured crisp. Who should get the bonus, Amir – the young man whose idea it was (who is also unreliable and critical of management) or Paul (the marketing manager, very loyal and reliable, but whose work is very average)? There are other contenders too. The collaborative task is to make a collective decision as to who should be rewarded and who shouldn’t, justifying as a group their reasoning. Unfortunately, in today’s climate this isn’t a real-life problem I’m likely to be faced with.

The skills associated with successfully completing this sort of task are essential for the workplace and for life – respecting others, cooperating, negotiating, persuading, contributing to discussions. Our success in promoting so called ‘soft skills’ might not be tested, but what could be more important than getting really good at getting on with people?