Abstract Background The Edinburgh Basic Surgical Trainee Assessment Form (EBSTAF) is a feasible, reliable and construct valid tool for assessment of surgical trainees. Our aim was to determine its acceptability as a formative training tool. Methods Thirty-three trainees on the South-East Scotland Basic Surgical Training Program ranked the 70 skills examined by the form as essential, important, useful, or irrelevant. Responses were compared with those of consultant surgeons obtained during development of the form. Results There was total agreement in 44 skills (63%, κ = 0.34). Trainees assigned greater importance to 24 (34%). For individual skills domains, trainees assigned significantly greater value: communication, 86% versus 78%; application of knowledge, 75% versus 67%; team-working, 84% versus 77%; clinical skills, 86% versus 83%; and technical skills, 84% versus 79%. Responses were internally consistent (α = 0.74 to 0.93). Conclusions Trainees attach greater value than consultants to the qualities assessed by EBSTAF. Trainees therefore agree with consultant opinion on what is important in a surgical trainee, supporting use of this form as a formative training tool.