Academic track record will always be one of the first things parents look at when considering a school. However, although good grades are important, developing ‘soft skills’ will help prepare your child for life after school and the world of work. Many soft skills such as leadership, teamwork, and communication can be learnt in the classroom. However, activities that complement the curriculum – known as co-curricular learning – can provide extra opportunities for personal growth.

Although most schools offer activities beyond the classroom, only a handful take a truly holistic approach to academic and co-curricular learning. This all-round approach to education is helping young people to develop the skills they need to be successful when they walk out of the school gates and enter the real world.

Pupils can take part in a broad range of co-curricular activities at Forest School

What are ‘soft skills’ and why are they so important?

As opposed to ‘hard skills’ (also known as technical skills), ‘soft skills’ are important life skills that enable you to fit in at a workplace. They include social skills such as communication, positive attitude, flexibility, personality and manners. They also encompass critical thinking, leadership skills, ability to work well within a team, and motivation and work ethic. Soft skills play a vital role in recruitment, as well as employee retainment and promotion.

Schools that are giving their pupils the opportunity to develop these skills are really helping to set them apart. Forest School in London, E17, for example, places huge importance on young people acquiring a 21st century skill set. The School aims to balance real academic achievement with meaningful personal development to give pupils the best chance of success.

What are co-curricular activities?

Co-curricular activities are activities that take place outside of the traditional classroom, but complement academic learning from the classroom curriculum. They can take place outside of school and after regular school hours and are usually ungraded. Co-curricular activities enhance the learning process by putting what is taught in the classroom into practice. They also help to make learning more fun and engaging.

Co-curricular activities are different from extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities aren’t tied to the curriculum, but are similar to co-curricular activities as they take place outside of the classroom.

Examples of co-curricular involvement include student newspapers, debating competitions, mathematics and science teams, and art shows. There are also schools that go beyond the usual co-curricular offering. Forest School, for example, invites their pupils to start their own clubs and many of these have been taken to national competition level. Recent start-ups have included Eco Soc and a Model United Nations.

Pupils at Forest School build a wide range of ‘soft skills’ including confidence and social skills

How co-curricular activities help pupils to develop soft skills

Co-curricular activities not only develop pupils’ interests and talents, but also enrich student learning and give pupils many opportunities to strengthen their soft skills.

Most co-curricular activities give pupils the opportunity to work within a team, take on a leadership role and develop their social skills. In fact, pupils taking part in co-curricular activities will often learn multiple soft skills that will benefit them when they leave school. Debating, for example, requires students to develop research and presentation skills; art stimulates creative thought and innovation; and drama helps young people to develop confidence and encourages them to think outside the box.

Forest School places a huge importance on giving their pupils the opportunity to learn and develop beyond the classroom. The School’s clubs and societies allow pupils to try new things, explore new places, and experience a real challenge. This provides a springboard for pupils to discover new talents and develop real-world skills that will be attractive to employers when they leave school.

How schools are co-ordinating academic and co-curricular learning

Some schools go beyond just offering a comprehensive co-curricular programme by co-ordinating learning inside and outside the classroom. This helps pupils to become well-rounded young adults.

Forest School, for example, believes that a holistic approach to the co-curriculum and the academic curriculum is crucial to both academic and personal progress.

The School ensures there is synergy between the co-curriculum and the subject curriculum by working with subject experts and external partners. These include elite sports coaches, music venues that are regularly sold out, and speakers who are experts in their fields. The School also has a vast programme of educational visits that take pupils from the classroom to destinations both domestic and abroad.

Forest School is also rare in that they have a strategy in place to ensure pupils meet their full potential not just academically, but as young people. The School’s Pupil Development Strategic Leadership Team meets regularly to track and improve pupil development across all areas.

Pupils with jointly strong co-curricular and academic profiles are attractive to universities and employers and find themselves the best equipped for life beyond school.

This is a sponsored post created in collaboration with Forest School, an independent day school located on the edge of Epping Forest for pupils aged 4-18.

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