Six essential life-skills for your students to master

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
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From job interviews to online safety, mental health to financial know-how, Emma Lee-Potter looks at six key life-skills tackled by the new ‘Essentials’ online learning modules

As well as teaching formal qualifications, schools and colleges work hard to ensure that students gain the knowledge and skills that will help them to flourish in later life – at university, in the workplace and the world beyond.

Key life-skills range from job interviews to keeping safe online, managing finances to protecting their mental health.

“It is essential that we make sure they are work-ready,” explained Lucy Saker, head of employability and student services at Askham Bryan College, a specialist land-based college near York.

Many schools and colleges teach life-skills during PSHE lessons and tutor periods but an increasing number are using a blend of online learning resources and classroom sessions.

The Skills Network, a provider of online learning technology, has developed Essentials, a suite of online learning material that focuses on three key areas: career development, developing attitudes for life and work, and personal development for success (which includes nutrition, exercise and wellbeing, online awareness, and creating healthy relationships).

The online material is aimed at 16 to 19-year-olds, although according to Stuart Allen, The Skills Network’s director of curriculum and quality and a former teacher and college leader, they are suitable for key stages 3 and 4 too.

Essentials’ tutorial content features auto-assessed online learning and questions, with teachers being able to track, monitor and evidence students’ work as they go. The modules include a variety of different learning methods, including videos, drag and drop exercises, audio passages and quizzes.

As schools and colleges slowly return following the coronavirus outbreak, the tutorials can be used for flipped learning. Students can work through the interactive online content themselves, making notes as they go, and teachers can then spend more time on more contextualised learning to develop depth of knowledge.

So, here are six of the key life-skills for students to master before they leave school or college.


1, Safeguarding and awareness of current affairs

It is important for students to gain awareness of current affairs and wider societal issues, such as LGBT+, female genital mutilation (FGM), gangs and drug channels, domestic violence, environmental impact, politics, British values, young carers, and forced marriage. They also need to understand the importance of safeguarding and be aware of the risks that people may be subjected to in their day-to-day lives, such as extremism and radicalisation.

“There are two reasons for this,” explained Mr Allen. “One is for students’ own safety and the need to have a greater awareness of the risks that exist in modern society that they, their families and friends may be subjected to. But they also need to understand safeguarding in the workplace and the policies, processes and procedures they may need to call upon if they are working in an industry or sector where their customers or clients are at risk themselves.”

Askham Bryan College takes a collaborative approach to topics like these. Ms Saker explained: “We usually do a discussion-based lesson and then concrete that knowledge by getting the students to work through the Essentials module. Blended learning works very well for us.”

The coaches who run Askham Bryan’s employability sessions have found that talking about issues pertinent to the local community works well. “For example, we did a big bit of work on county lines,” Ms Saker continued. “North Yorkshire is a hot spot because we are well connected via the train lines – so it was very topical. I put together a PowerPoint presentation explaining county lines while other coaches used YouTube videos, posed questions and led discussions.”


2, Looking after our mental health and wellbeing

It is well known that half of mental health problems begin by the age of 15 and 75 per cent develop by the age of 18 (Kessler et al, 2005). It is crucial, therefore, for teenagers to understand problems like stress, anxiety, depression and eating disorders and to learn how to spot the warning signs. The Essentials content includes modules on these conditions, as well as food safety awareness, nutrition and diet, exercise, alcohol, substance misuse and sexual health.

“Mental health is such a huge part of life now,” said Mr Allen. “We see more and more cases of young people who are struggling to manage their mental health. We believe that having mental health awareness and coping strategies as part of the core curriculum will allow individuals to self-manage issues that can be such a disadvantage to them being successful and fulfilling their potential.”

He believes that one of the most effective ways to tackle these issues with students is by inviting in guest speakers to talk about their experience of problems like alcohol, drugs and eating disorders.

He continued: “You can teach learners about the different types of mental health issues and solutions, but it really becomes powerful when young people can see that individuals have achieved success perhaps despite going through mental health trauma themselves.

“They can speak openly about how they got support and how they supported themselves. Being open with learners and allowing other people to share how they have struggled is very powerful when it comes to teaching.”


3, Money management

From opening a bank account and budgeting for monthly outgoings to understanding tax and National Insurance, money management skills are vital.

A range of research has shown that young people who have had some financial education at school are more likely to save frequently, have a bank account and be confident about managing their money.

“It used to upset me when I worked in some inner-city colleges where the communities were really disadvantaged that many of our learners didn’t know how to open a bank account or how to pay their bills,” Mr Allen said. “Some got into trouble with loan sharks and it dawned on me that money management was a crucial skill that we needed to teach.”

The Essentials tutorials cover topics like personal household budgeting and professional budgeting. Teachers can supplement this by sharing money management case studies and scenarios where learners “can put themselves in someone else’s shoes and use their knowledge to work out how to solve a problem”.

Staff at Askham Bryan found that inviting NatWest into the college to run money management sessions worked well: “They based the topic around a mobile phone contract and got students to think about questions like how much the contract was going to cost, what it entailed, and whether they could afford it,” Ms Saker explained.

“The students really liked that because it was topical and relevant to them. We try to make our sessions curriculum-specific as well.”


4, Digital skills and online safety

Keeping themselves safe online is of paramount importance for young people. The tutorial on online awareness touches upon subjects such as the pros and cons of social media, the dangers of grooming and exploitation, and the importance of creating a positive body image.

Mr Allen explained: “Online safety is a critical part of individual development as we evolve into the digital era. Preparing our learners for how to keep themselves safe in an online world is vital. They need to know how to protect themselves against fraud and other risks and how to use social media effectively but keep their privacy.”

An effective way to teach these skills is to use case studies of issues like online fraud or sexting and ask learners: “How would you keep yourself safe in this situation? What would you have done differently?”

Askham Bryan takes a blended approach. Some of the college’s 1,200 students like to work through online modules while others prefer class discussions about real-life examples.

“A lot of what we do stems from the students,” Ms Saker said. “Different apps, websites and terminology come up all the time with teenagers so it’s very important for them to air their views and concerns.”


5, Applying for jobs and interview preparation

Essentials tutorials feature units on identifying career options, searching for jobs, the nuts and bolts of writing a CV, and planning for interviews.

Mr Allen said that the most effective way for students to prepare for interviews is to experience a mock interview: “I’ve been involved in careers weeks where I’ll go in as a business person, interview learners and give them the chance to be tested in a real-life situation,” he said. “Some schools are far too focused on performance tables and learners achieving high grades, but when they sit in front of an employer at interview they struggle and can’t get the job they deserve.

“Getting really good developmental feedback from a real employer – not a teacher – about what they have done well and what they need to go and reflect about is very useful.”

Askham Bryan students spend a lot of time studying how to apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. They are encouraged to keep their CVs up-to-date, learn how to write cover letters, and attend careers events and mock interviews.

Ms Saker explained: “We hold speed mock interviews where we invite 30 local employers. The students have a couple of minutes with each one. Before that session, our coaches do practical interview technique work, including group work, role-play, watching videos and making sure the students know what to do when they’re in front of an employer.

“In the coming months, a lot of job interviews will be virtual so we are going to make sure that students have experience of virtual interviews as well.”


6, Effective revision and learning techniques

As they get older, young people need to find the revision and learning techniques that work best for them. Mr Allen explained: “Behaviours to learn are really critical; it’s important that learners get into good habits.

“The best way to teach revision techniques is to allow learners to look at the various ways in which they can enhance their ability to retain information for an exam.”

The Essentials tutorials suggest a host of different methods, including elaboration, spaced learning, chunking, mnemonics and retrieval practice. Mr Allen recommends that students also spend time with their teachers, exploring and discussing these revision techniques.

Other guidance in Essentials helps students to improve study skills, set targets for study, understand different referencing styles, and learn more about effective essay-writing.

  • Emma Lee-Potter is a freelance education writer.


Further information

For more on the Essentials tutorials, click here. SecEd has published this article with sponsorship from The Skills Network. It has been written and produced to a brief agreed in advance with The Skills Network.


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