Developing their skills outside the classroom

Written by: Ali Stanger-Leathes | Published:
Image: World Challenge

From trips to community activities, teachers can introduce extra-curricular learning in many ways. Ali Stanger-Leathes advises

Helping students to reach their potential is of utmost importance, however in a profession defined by how many students get five A* to C grades, how can teachers be supported in delivering a well-rounded education that will help young people long into their futures?

A recent survey of 3,000 students aged between 14 and 21 found that when exam stress hits, hobbies are the first activities to be dropped.

However, at World Challenge we recently carried out research with more than 500 employers. Our final report, entitled Step Ahead, found that:

  • Seventy per cent of businesses say that evidence of participation in extra-curricular activities makes candidates stand out from the crowd.
  • More than half of businesses are of the opinion that candidates who have experience of extra-curricular activities progress faster in their jobs than those who do not.
  • Nearly two-thirds of businesses say that candidates with extra-curricular experience tend to be more successful employees.

The report’s full findings are available to download for free from the World Challenge website (see further information).

It is clear that the UK is currently experiencing a soft skills deficit, with organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce and the Confederation of British Industry calling for more of a focus on skills and experience within the education system. But where is the healthy balance? An enriching and diverse curriculum is, of course, crucial to young people’s development. But how can you help your students to understand the balance between academia and extra-curricular activities, and help them to expand their skill-set outside of the classroom?

Understanding what works

There a host of extra-curricular activities available to young people, provided by schools or otherwise.

However, too much choice can lead to students taking on too much and not sticking to any one hobby.

Encourage your students to make the most of activities offered by your school, encouraging them to focus their efforts on one or two to avoid overwhelming them. Don’t make it about careers at this stage – instead get them to think about their interests. Are they football mad? Turn them towards the school football club.

An avid reader? Perhaps there’s a post for a student librarian that they can take on. As students work their way up the school, use registration periods, assemblies and PSHE lessons to get them to think about what skills they acquire from such activities.

Emphasise any transferable skills such as teamwork, communication, leadership and commitment. When discussing careers with students, try to encourage them to make a link between these skills and attributes needed for future jobs they might want to explore.

Use mock job interviews to allow students to talk about their hobbies and pastimes, focusing again on linking skills with characteristics employers might be looking for in candidates.

However you decide to help students to get involved with such activities, remind them that the list is not exhaustive and any hobby can count. Help them to understand that a Saturday job can be repackaged as an extra-curricular activity, as can helping out at an old people’s home. Above all, reinforce how through such activities they are acquiring useful transferable skills that will not only help them at school, but later on in life.

Shake up school trips

There is a big difference between a typical school trip and student-led travel. The first scenario sees students signing up for a pre-arranged trip with their parents writing a cheque – a fairly passive, transactional experience.

In the second instance, students take ownership of planning and management. You can also encourage them to raise their own funds. They will need to research their destination, plan details of the trip, take on leadership roles and work together cooperatively.

While it can be difficult to watch them making mistakes, it will also be incredibly satisfying to watch them problem-solve. They will likely enjoy the trip a lot more, too.

Make PE more experiential

What does a typical PE lesson look like? Normally it is focused on one or two activities, perhaps one group goes off to play football while another hits the athletics track.

What if, instead, you got the students to do a bit more of the work? Give them a bit of time at the beginning of lessons to plan their own tournament. They could even organise a school Olympics. They will need to make it work from a timetabling perspective, perhaps sell tickets to potential spectators, and organise teams based on strengths and weaknesses.

The anticipation leading up to the event will make them more keen to get into the game, as well.

Using PSHE

The absence of a set programme of study for PSHE can make this a tricky lesson to deliver. However, a bit of creativity and lateral thinking can transform the “economic education” part of the subject.

Some schools block out a day a term to deliver PSHE, and this can be a great way of engaging with local businesses and getting them into school to chat to pupils.

They can offer advice on what they look for when recruiting, and how young people might go about developing key skills that they view as important. In addition, you could create a few activities that pupils can choose to participate in; such as volunteering with a local charity, planning a school event, or reading to younger students.

As homework, get them to write up what they learned during the activities, and the new skills they have acquired.


It is important to help young people to achieve a study-life balance that sees them leave education as well-rounded individuals ready to enter the workplace and get on in life. Focusing on attainment and academic improvement is of course important. However, of equal importance is preparing young people for success in life and the workplace. After all, grades can only get you so far.

  • Ali Stanger-Leathes is general manager at World Challenge. For more information on their research report exploring employers’ views on the value of extra-curricular activities, visit


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