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Teaching core life skills (secondary)
How can we deliver effective provision for the teaching of core life skills? In this article, we relay advice from three of our associate experts on how the teaching of core life skills can be built into the curriculum, and how the impact of teaching these skills can be measured.
Findings from our 2017 State of Education survey show that 8 in 10 (79%) secondary school leaders think that the curriculum should include more focus on core life skills, such as financial management, communication skills and keeping healthy. This would help them to better equip their pupils for life beyond education.
In this article, Ben White, Gary Forrest and Mark Trusson, 3 of The Key’s associate education experts, advise on how core life skills can be taught as a part of the curriculum.
What are life skills?
SkillsYouNeed explains that 'life skills' are usually associated with managing and living a better quality of life.
There is no definitive list of life skills and certain skills may be more or less relevant depending on factors such as personal circumstances and age. Essential life skills can include:
- Study skills
- Negotiation skills
- Employability skills
- Stress management skills
- Problem solving skills
Ben, Gary and Mark suggested the following approaches to building in the teaching of core life skills in the curriculum.
One-off extra-curricular days
Sometimes called ‘focus days’, Ben explained that these can be run throughout the year and allow year groups to have a series of additional workshops, presentations or lessons on specific life skills.
Mark added that schools may want to use form tutors to deliver these as they have stronger relationships with students. Alternatively, staff could be divided into specialist areas of delivery or external experts could be used.
If external speakers or agencies are being used this can be cost effective because entire year groups can be available at the same time to hear a speaker or participate in a project such as enterprise challenges.
Highworth Grammar School in Kent runs focus days where students spend a day focusing on topics such as careers, enterprise, study techniques and life skills.
Factors to consider
- Plan how you will try to avoid students and/or staff perceiving these days to be a bolt-on to core lessons rather than a key part of the curriculum
- Ensure staff buy-in by dealing with any concerns about how it may affect timetabling and their workload
- Review the relevance and quality of the extra-curricular day to ensure it remains purposeful
- Plan these days well in advance to make sure they don't always fall on the same day of the week and don't disrupt the same subjects
- Ensure you book external agencies or speakers well in advance if being used
Ensure staff buy-in by dealing with any concerns about how it may affect ... their workload
Discrete lessons can be offered to all students or specific groups such as students on a restricted timetable. Ben explained that these can be particularly effective if a number of mini-courses are developed for each skill.
For example, a single teacher could deliver one lesson per timetable cycle to teach a 6 lesson series on financial management. This could then be repeated with each form group over the course of a year. This allows teachers with particular expertise in specific core life skills to work with students over a longer period of time than is possible with one-off extra-curricular days. Ben told us that one school he works with has used this model to develop a series of courses in study skills, wellbeing and careers guidance.
Patcham High School, a secondary community school in Brighton and Hove, teaches life skills as a compulsory subject. The curriculum covers areas such as enterprise and economy, career development, philosophy and ethics and healthy lifestyles.
Factors to consider
- Make the relevance of courses clear to students and staff to help ensure that sessions are deemed significant. A lack of formal qualification may hinder this
- Carefully organise staffing and timetabling as a dedicated and specialist team is likely to be needed to deliver sessions
Use tutor time
Delivering content through tutorials may help students to see core life skills as a part of the school culture
Mark suggested that schools could use tutorials to teach core life skills rather than discrete lessons to maximise efficient use of the school timetable. Delivering content through tutorials may help students to see core life skills as a part of the school culture.
Factors to consider
- You may need to rotate a team of 'specialists' within tutor time as form tutors may not have the subject knowledge to deliver core life skills
- Tutorial sessions will need to be longer to teach core life skills effectively. This may involve increasing tutor time once a week and clawing back time by reducing all other periods. The longer tutor period day could be rotated so the impact on subjects is spread out
Embed skills in existing subjects
Embedding skills in subjects such as PSHE and citizenship can ensure that lessons can include an emphasis on skills and ideas beyond the remit of course specifications and examinations.
Gary advised that schools should conduct an audit of the curriculum to identify where life skills are already being taught as a part of existing subjects then find opportunities to fill any gaps. While doing this, schools should consider what skills progression will look like from year 7 to the end of KS4.
Ben suggested that this approach would be more effective if it worked in conjunction with one of the other three approaches described above. Staff would be aware of the key skills and ideas being covered on focus days or in discrete lessons and then could refer to these where relevant within subjects too.
Ben and Gary advised that schools should think carefully about what impact core life skills are meant to have regardless of whether they are easily measurable. Schools should also identify what type of assessment they want to conduct – ongoing formative assessment of how students' skills are developing or a summation of what skills they have at the end of KS4.
In the short term, schools may want to review the perception of the lessons
Ben advised that in the short term, schools may want to review the perception of the lessons, extra-curricular days or courses by teachers as well as students.
Although this data is qualitative, it could be useful in informing ongoing changes and refinements to how core life skills are taught.
With some skills, there may be an expectation that teaching may lead to changes in physical behaviours. Ben suggested that a self-assessment questionnaire or teacher observation of changes to behaviour would be valid ways of measuring impact, such as:
- Checking whether students use mindfulness exercises after sessions on wellbeing
- Asking students which study skills they regularly use after sessions on this particular skill
Mark added that student questionnaires and surveys may also be useful in determining students’ enjoyment of the content that is being taught.
Ben and Gary told us that there may be a long-term measurable impact related to the teaching of these skills such as the impact on students' employment prospects and study choices on leaving school.
Core life skills may impact directly or indirectly on students' attainment in other subjects. For example, financial management and enterprise skills can impact on attainment in maths. Schools therefore may want to look at exam results when identifying the long-term impact.
Gary added that schools may also want to seek feedback from employers and/or further education (FE) colleges to identify whether the teaching of core life skills has impacted on students' readiness for employment or further education.
Some of the resources suggested below are products from commercial organisations. Their inclusion in this article should not be seen as an endorsement by The Key.
PSHE and enterprise resources
Teaching Resources has PSHE and enterprise lesson plans that cover KS3 and KS4. The activities are designed so that they can be delivered in discrete lessons, enrichment days and/or tutorial time.
You will need to have a paid subscription with Teaching Resources to view these lesson plans.
Developing academic resilience
An article from The Key outlines strategies schools can use to promote academic resilience.
A further article looks at how Rodillian Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) has developed a resilience curriculum across its secondary schools.
Academic resilience resources
Boingboing and YoungMinds have developed resources to support schools in developing academic resilience among children and young people.
Resources include 'The Resilience Framework' which summarises a set of specific approaches in five key areas:
- Core self
Careers education resources
An article from The Key looks at examples of careers education resources as well as audits and checklists designed to support schools in developing a careers education strategy.
Financial education planning framework
The Personal Finance Education Group (pfeg), a charity supporting young people to develop personal and business skills, has developed a free financial planning framework for secondary schools to support the planning, teaching and progression of financial education.
It sets the key areas of financial knowledge, skills and attitudes across four themes:
- How to manage money
- Becoming a critical consumer
- Managing risks and emotions associated with money
- Understanding the important role money plays in our lives
Pfeg also offers free and paid-for resources to support teaching and learning.
LifeSkills, created with Barclays, is a free programme linked to the curriculum and aimed at helping to improve the skills and employability of young people. It includes over 50 lesson plans and online resources including interview advice and tips on good financial management.
Ben White is the director of curriculum at an ‘outstanding’ secondary school and research director for Ashford Teaching Alliance. He is also a specialist leader of education. Ben’s areas of experience include staff development, curriculum reform, evidence-based practice, and effective assessment and evaluation.
Gary Forrest is a curriculum adviser with expertise in curriculum and qualifications design and development, work-related and vocational learning, careers education and education-business links. Formerly with the QCDA, he was a manager in the 14-19 education division.
Mark Trusson is a headteacher and National College accredited school improvement partner. He has previously served as the principal and director of a multi-academy trust, and has expertise in the innovative use of ICT with pupils and leading church schools.
This article was written in anticipation of questions from members.
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