What Do We Mean By ‘Foundational Skills’?

Universal, early, conceptual and procedural mastery of foundational skills is the first step to success in later years of schooling.


Image of Lillie Kilburn

Lillie Kilburn

RISE Directorate

Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated school closures have highlighted the importance of foundational skills. Because children need these foundational skills in order to master more complex skills, missing out on foundational learning will prevent children from successfully learning in later years.

But when we say that children ‘need foundational skills,’ what exactly do we mean?

Breaking down ‘foundational skills’

In fact, children need universal, early, conceptual and procedural mastery of foundational skills.

In this infographic, based on a recent RISE Insight Note, we break down what each part of this phrase means and why each component is necessary:

Or, to summarise:

  • Universal means that every child in the world should achieve foundational learning.
  • Early means that children need to master foundational skills early in their schooling, because those who fall behind rarely catch up.
  • Conceptual means that children must understand the concepts behind what they are learning, not simply memorise content through rote instruction.
  • Procedural means that children need practice and fluency in procedures in addition to their understanding of concepts. They must learn how to do the steps to solve problems and apply skills practically.
  • Mastery means that children should achieve some agreed-upon level of proficiency and difficulty against which progress can be measured.
  • And, lastly, foundational skills means basic literacy and numeracy—vital, indispensable skills needed for virtually any further education and to lead an empowered, self-determined life.

Exploring UECPMFS further

To delve deeper into how the components of universal, early, conceptual and procedural mastery of foundational skills work together to create a foundation for learning for all children, take a look at a few more RISE resources:

You can also see our list of all RISE research outputs on foundational skills.

RISE blog posts and podcasts reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation or our funders.