Have you the key competence to flourish in life?

For ten years Amy has been my hairdresser. I am always in awe of her competence to navigate successfully the complexities of managing her salon, holding in her mind my story as a customer, relating to me AND ensuring I have a great haircut!  I have observed others with this competence and back in 2014 I began using a term, which I think describes Amy’s competence – it sounds like a bit of jargon but I can’t think of a term which is more accurate – it is personal holistic competence (PHC)

What does personal holistic competence mean?  I think the meaning of personal is probably obvious to you; holistic, however needs a little explanation.  Holistic refers to a whole range of abilities, character traits, dispositions and skills, which together develop what I describe as a ‘super’ competence.  This competence is not measured in a test but can be observed, like me for instance watching Amy working in the hairdressers.  Where did Amy and others with this holistic competence learn it?  Was it at school or working at the hairdresser’s?

Probably, school contributed to some of the elements of her PHC.  However, you will be aware that traditionally schooling has mainly focused on the development of technical competences such as the 3r’s.  In modern times the curriculum has added other subjects such as science and technology.  Emphasis has been on developing our rational ability, which uses reason – all of which was bequeathed to us from the times of the Enlightenment (late 17th Century). These subjects are now externally examined through a complex and highly expensive examination system.  In comparison, personal and social competencies such as emotional, psychological and emotional literacy, which may be learned through the Arts and Humanities, are given little time and status. 

In my view, the curriculum has become increasingly imbalanced, with the emphasis focused on the academic and cognitive. Also, increasingly young children are being subjected to a curriculum that does not account for the developmental stage that they are passing through.  Early years education is now only in the first year of English primary schools, with greater emphasis on primary pupils learning the complexities of English grammar etc. This has resulted in the affective aspects (feelings, moods, attitudes) of the curriculum – drama, art, dance, PE being seen as of less importance.  Ironically however, there is an increasing demand from employers for employees to have so called ‘soft skills’ in order to be successful in their careers.  These skills, which VbE schools promote, include: communicative competence, relational trust, self and other awareness, resilience, agency and ethical intelligence, which are increasingly seen as of central importance for young people moving into the world of work.

Besides observing people at work, such as hairdressers, I have the privilege of witnessing the incredible impact of schools that have embedded the educational philosophy, which I promote, known as Values-based Education (VbE).  In such schools, with their emphasis on core values such as trust, honesty and resilience etc, I see young people being engaged in a school life that develops personal holistic competence. This is because VbE argues for a balance between the development of personal and academic capacities with the result that students are empowered to develop holistically – able to meet the challenges of living in an ever-increasing complex world, as well as being prepared academically. The outcome of VbE is that students will begin to develop the overarching competence of personal holistic competence (PHC).

David Bartlett, with Jane Hawkes, at Pear Tree Therapeutic School, which explicitly develops PHC in pupils.

This multidimensional competence cannot be measured in the abstract through traditional written exams (sorry examiners and data gatherers) – only observed as a whole in real life situations. It is demonstrated in performance in complex relational situations in the world.  A friend jokingly said to me that it could be seen in young people who are planning sleepovers! 

PHC therefore is as the overarching competence, which equips students with the values, attitudes and behavioural traits that are increasingly needed to solve complex personal, social and work related challenges. It enables students to develop the ability to work effectively in relationship with others to meet important challenges in an ever-increasing complex world – multidimensional challenges, such as balancing the various demands that modern life brings.  PHC foregrounds relationships and qualities, such as compassion and emotional intelligence and cannot be observed or exercised except in relationship with others.

The development of PHC, arguably the most important overarching competence, requires the right conditions to nurture and sustain it; hence the urgent need for values-based schools, colleges and places of work. Above all it needs a shift in the mindset of society, which limits real change in the educational system. Our national and local leaders need to have the will to create schools that will prepare young people for life in the 21st Century not the 19th!  We must not let them duck this challenge, as our children’s future depends on a creative transformation of the educational system – worldwide. 

Please join me in bringing about this change.