Life skills – a key part of the curriculum

A rigorous academic education is no longer enough to prepare children for entry into the real world, so increasingly independent schools are offering life skills as a key part of their curriculum. Dr Dale Cartwright explains the benefits.

Merchiston Castle School

Merchiston Castle School

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The employment landscape is evolving at such a rapid pace, with an expanding workforce in both the creative and service industries, and so it is essential that young people today are well prepared for the unfamiliar industries of tomorrow. 

Developing transferable skills

The key to this lies in both a focus on developing the skills and attributes transferable to any existing or emerging industry, and the flexibility of thought to identify the opportunities that this transferability provides. The world of education has largely, and understandably, been focused on attainment for many years, and top grades followed by a prestigious university have long been seen as the preferred outcome of a successful education. 
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What is now clear however, is that this is not enough: universities and employers in all career areas decry the absence of many skills fundamental to independent learning or the workplace, and so an evolution of learning in schools is required to improve on this and ensure that our learners are truly ready for the next stage. What does this evolution really mean in a modern, forward-thinking school with a global perspective? At Merchiston, it means a commitment to providing our young men with progressive and cohesive opportunities to develop key skills across the total curriculum, ensuring that these are embedded as a key component of learning and underpinning attainment at the highest level possible. Equally, it means developing a shared vocabulary to articulate progressive skills development and to identify successes, development opportunities, and the value of these skills in different areas of learning, life and work. There has been much discussion around what these skills and attributes are and how best to develop them, and every school will have its own focus and approach, based on what they consider to be most appropriate for their learners. School search and education advice - connect with our in-country experts

A skills framework with a global outlook

Merchiston is no different in this respect, and we have developed or own skills framework, drawing on best practice and applying it within our context with a global outlook. It is wide-ranging, as one would expect, and so a focus on the aforementioned creative and service industries will serve as an example. How does a typical 17-year-old young man – if there is such a thing – develop the skills crucial to such industries? It is essential for them to have, and make the most of, the opportunities to do so. Creativity is most obviously developed in subject areas such as art and design, design and technology, music, etc. However, to focus so narrowly is to ignore the opportunities provided more widely: the designing of an elegant chemistry experiment; the beauty of a play crafted to get around an opponent’s defence in rugby; an elegant counter in a debate. Skills and attributes essential to the service industries are the very same as those which are essential to being part of a community such as Merchiston. Opportunities to serve, lead, and contribute widely are important and include collaborative projects in class; Koinonia (service in the community); involvement in student-led fora; serving as prefects. These few examples highlight how so many school activities can be distilled down to underlying skills development, something which has perhaps been undervalued in the recent past. However, in an employment environment developing at an ever-increasing pace of change, it is more crucial than ever that these opportunities are cultivated, promoted, and valued by both educators and learners. Only by doing so can we ensure that our young people are ready to contribute to, and shape, the world of tomorrow.

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