Approaches to teaching core life skills (secondary)

Build core life skills into your curriculum to help prepare your pupils for the next stage of their lives. Find out about different approaches to do this, and how you might measure the impact of teaching these skills.

Last reviewed on 9 November 2022
School types: All · School phases: Secondary
Ref: 33650
  1. What are life skills?
  2. Hold one-off extra-curricular days throughout the year
  3. Plan discrete lessons
  4. Use tutor time
  5. Embed life skills in existing subjects
  6. Measure the impact of teaching core life skills

What are life skills?

There's no one definition or list, though it's often associated with skills that help people to manage and live a better quality of life. According to the web service SkillsYouNeed, important life skills may include:

  • Study skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Employability skills
  • Stress management skills
  • Problem-solving skills

The life skills you teach will depend on the age of your pupils - for example, job-related skills might be more relevant to Key Stage (KS) 4 than KS3 pupils.

Hold one-off extra-curricular days throughout the year

These 'focus days' can involve workshops, presentations or lessons on specific life skills.

You may want to:

  • Use form tutors to deliver these as they have stronger relationships with pupils
  • Divide staff into specialist areas of delivery
  • Bring in external experts - to keep this cost-effective, have external speakers or agencies deliver sessions to entire year groups.

Highworth Grammar School in Kent runs extra-curricular days where pupils focus on topics such as careers, enterprise and study techniques.

If you choose to run these yourself, Barclays LifeSkills has free lesson plans and presentation slides that you can adapt for your school. Topics range from problem solving to adaptability and money skills.

Factors to consider

  • Make core life skills part of your school culture, like at Warminster School, to help pupils and staff see these days as a key element of the curriculum (rather than a bolt-on to core lessons)
  • Address any concerns about how focus days might affect timetabling and workloads to make sure your staff are fully on board
  • Review the relevance and quality of each focus day so that it provides value and purpose
  • Plan these days carefully so that they don't always fall on the same day of the week and don't disrupt the same subjects
  • Book external agencies or speakers well in advance if you're using them

Plan discrete lessons

You can offer these to all pupils or to specific groups. 

To make these lessons most effective:

  • Develop a number of mini-courses for each skill - this will enable your pupils to engage with a core life skill over a longer period of time than is possible with one-off focus days
  • Ask a teacher with particular expertise to lead each course - for example, you could ask 1 teacher to lead a series of 6 sessions on financial management to 1 form group. That teacher could then repeat this series for other form groups over the course of the year 

Patcham High School in Brighton and Hove teaches life skills as a compulsory subject. The school has a team of teachers responsible for areas such as economic wellbeing, philosophy and ethics, and healthy lifestyles.

Factors to consider

  • Make sure staff and pupils know why each course is relevant and the value it will bring
  • You'll likely need a dedicated team of teachers to run discrete lessons, so you'll need to organise staffing and timetabling carefully

Use tutor time

This can help you efficiently use your school’s timetable and help pupils see core life skills as part of your school culture. 

Factors to consider

  • You might need to set up a dedicated team of staff to do this so you have a 'specialist' in each core life skill. You'd then need to rotate this team of 'specialists' within tutor time, as form tutors might not have the subject knowledge to deliver core life skills
  • You’ll need to make tutorial sessions longer to teach core life skills effectively. This might involve increasing tutor time once a week and clawing back time by reducing all other periods. You could rotate the longer tutor period day to spread out the impact on subjects

Marriotts School in Stevenage has dedicated tutor sessions that cover character education, cultural capital and careers. Each half-term the school arranges a whole week of tutor activities around these themes.

Embed life skills in existing subjects

You could work core life skills into subjects like personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education and citizenship. The lessons would emphasise skills and ideas beyond course specifications and exams.

You may want to:

  • Conduct an audit of your curriculum to see where you're already teaching life skills in existing subjects. You’ll then be able to find opportunities to fill any gaps
  • Combine this approach with one of the other three described above to make it most effective

The Hazeley Academy in Milton Keynes covers 3 core themes (health and wellbeing, relationships, and living in the wider world) in PSHE as part of its Life Skills programme. 

Measure the impact of teaching core life skills

Think carefully about what impact you want core life skills to have, regardless of whether they're easily measurable.

Identify what type of assessment you want to conduct - this could be:

  • Ongoing formative assessment of how pupils' skills are developing
  • A summation of what skills they've gained the end of KS4

In the short term:

  • See what teachers and pupils think of your chosen method to teach core life skills
  • Use their feedback to help you make changes and refine how your school teaches these skills

In the medium term, teaching life skills might lead to behaviour changes in pupils

You could measure its impact on pupil behaviour by using a self-assessment questionnaire or teacher observation, for example:

  • Checking whether pupils use mindfulness exercises after sessions on wellbeing
  • Asking pupils which study skills they use regularly after sessions on this particular skill

You could also use pupil questionnaires and surveys to check how they enjoy the content they're learning.

In the long term, look for impact on pupils' employment prospects and study choices

Core life skills may also have a direct or indirect impact on your pupils' attainment in other subjects. For example, financial management and enterprise skills can have an impact on attainment in maths. You could therefore:

  • Look at exam results when identifying the long-term impact
  • Seek feedback from employers and/or further education colleges to see whether teaching core life skills has had an impact on pupils' readiness for employment or further education


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.

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