Aysgarth School Headmaster Jonathon Anderson discusses the importance of ‘life skills’ that help children connect, have trust and become independent

I am struck over and over again by how much thought and investment goes into the lives of our schools both in the classroom and beyond. We continue to grapple with how we split our time across a range of subjects while still allowing space for sport, music, the arts and, of course, some time to be independent and to make choices.

On visits to senior schools, I have marvelled at science departments that look like universities and engineering departments using technology that makes my head spin. Sporting endeavours now come with a level of analysis and data collection that my own experiences at school simply could not match. Our pupils have a grasp of communication across the world that makes my childhood look very localised.

With all these impressive advancements and innovations, I am always left wondering about ‘life skills’, what they really are, how we develop them and what value they have to young people of tomorrow. For me, life skills are about one individual’s ability to deal with others, one-to-one and as part of a community. They are, perhaps, part of a Venn diagram that doesn’t overlap too much with technology and is more rooted in intangibles: trust, feelings, independence, confidence, and so on.

Aysgarth School on building skills for life
Young people’s willingness to talk, to have trust and enlist help, is a positive development, says the Head of Aysgarth

The recent focus on mental health might leave some feeling we have all gone soft, but the significant benefit I see is a willingness to talk, to enlist help and to trust. The point at which we follow this path will vary according to individual levels of resilience and personal circumstances, but knowing it’s time to talk, that help is there and that stigma in this regard is all but gone better equips our pupils for the inevitable bumps in the road. We might take steps forward in confidence after public speaking, a moment on stage, a sporting victory or an improving set of grades, but talking, getting help and trusting are core confidences – the true foundation for these other experiences to add to. 

“Some life skills can be planned and taught but many only become second nature when lived through school culture”

I feel very conscious of the importance of the ‘preparatory’ element of what we provide at schools such as Aysgarth. In many cases, we are quite small, incredibly caring communities where pupils are known inside out. However, we prepare children for the much bigger stages to come, where the pace inevitably quickens and where life skills will be tested.

Having to consciously build a group of friends and adapt to a new community, house, class and team is a new experience for many and, I would suggest, requires skills learned through PSHE lessons, boarding, positions of responsibility, collaborative work, school council experiences and time left to make choices. Some life skills can be planned and taught but many only become second nature when lived through school culture, minute to minute, with a set of values and expectations.

Happily, I find myself in a place where trust has been actively developed through targeted interventions and forums and then reinforced through daily activities or in the boarding house. While our grades are something to be proud of, it is the life skills that our pupils take into the testing times ahead that fill me with confidence that exciting, fulfilling, compassionate futures await them.

Aysgarth School aysgarthschool.com

Further reading: Healthy competition – why school sports are so important