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The Many Ways to Be Smart

25/07/2014 16:03 BST | Updated 24/09/2014 10:59 BST

A letter from the head teacher at Barrowford Primary School took the internet by storm last week after a parent posted it online. Sent out with their test results, the head teacher used the letter to tell her students how proud she was of their efforts.

She then pointed out that there are lots of traits that the exams don't measure, like being kind to friends or speaking two languages.

She finished the letter with this message: 'The scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.'

Skills of the future

On the surface, it may seem like little more than a sweet message to students. So why did it strike a chord with people?

Perhaps because people recognise that your future should not be defined by your exam results. Now the trick is to get students to actually believe it.

The Institute for the Future predicted what work skills will be needed in 2020, and recognised a need for so-called 'soft skills'. They include having social intelligence and being able to think 'adaptively' - abilities which can't be measured through a multiple-choice test.

It shows the need to develop skills beyond rote memorisation and formulas. Students are in great danger of missing out on great job opportunities if they don't learn other 'ways of being smart.'

The job interview

In fact, City & Guilds recently did some research about the issues that businesses face.

A massive 62% of employers said the biggest skills issue today is that young people don't understand what businesses are looking for in their new recruits. Too many students believe that straight As are the only golden ticket to a fantastic career, and write-off the value of broader workplace skills.

The head teacher at Barrowford Primary School, Rachel Tomlinson, put it well in an interview with The Guardian.

'If you have 11 A*s at GCSE, four A-levels and a first class degree that's great,' she said. 'But if you can't hold your own in an interview, or you don't know the value of respect or about being self-regulating then those results aren't going to see you through.'

Exams aren't crystal balls

That's not to discount the value of formal education. It's important to learn and to try hard in school. However, we shouldn't let young people fall into the trap of thinking that exams are all that matter.