Sandra Radford, Head of Sixth Form and Careers at Gordon’s School, discusses the importance of gaining extra skills and experiences for wellbeing and onward careers

Exam results may gain that place at university or a job interview, but increasingly employers are looking for the added extras – the participation in a sports team, dramatic arts or Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – to separate one candidate from another.

At Gordon’s, a non-selective state boarding school in Surrey, we have long believed in a holistic approach to education. This means long days – day students along with their boarding peers do their prep and have supper at school – and a rigorous academic timetable. But there is also a strong focus on the co-curricular extras. Every student has the opportunity of playing a sport at least once a day or indulging in one of the 50 plus activities on offer, ranging from the Arts to board games.

Many students choose to join the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) in the Army, Navy or Air Force and the school also boasts a higher-than-average number embarking on the Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award Scheme, with over 100 signed up for the Bronze Award this year alone. There are many extras acquired on the games field, trekking as part of a DofE Award or getting involved in a school orchestra. There is no doubt that performing as part of a team, leadership, problem-solving, confidence and perseverance are among the key skills – and will sustain young people through not just their career but life.

Further life skills can be gained by seizing opportunities for public speaking and debating through mediums such as MUN (Model United Nations), Young Enterprise and public speaking competitions. All help to develop a student’s critical thinking skills and teach effective communication, independent research and teamwork. Students at Gordon’s also have the chance to study for an Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) industry-recognised qualification, which not only aids them in leadership roles at school but also in the working world.

“Co-curricular activities and opportunities to develop skills outside the curriculum are vital for wellbeing, but also instrumental in developing transferrable skills”

Every student belongs to a House and competitions between Houses – from debating to dancing – are enjoyed and fiercely contested. The inter-house competitions allow every student the opportunity to play representative sport at school and promote the ‘have a go’ attitude we champion. Similarly, all students can play a part in the school’s numerous stage productions, whether acting, singing, dancing or behind the scenes directing or taking responsibility for costumes or sound. These productions are a true team effort.

I see co-curricular activities and opportunities to develop skills outside the curriculum as vital for student wellbeing, but also instrumental in developing their transferrable skills. Increasingly employers aren’t just looking at exam grades but the extras on CVs. They look for elements that demonstrate commitment, diversity awareness, the ability to handle pressure, time management and a have-a go-attitude. There is no doubt they strengthen a student’s employability and their applications for the post-18 journey. Importantly, they also give them stories to tell in job interviews.

Sport, DofE, CCF or performing on a stage takes students out of their comfort zone. They discover new skills and become more confident through taking part, as they learn more about leadership qualities and the value of endurance, teamwork and problem-solving. All of these skills all necessary qualities for their working life whatever career they go on to choose.

Gordon’s School

Further reading: Why the arts develop skills for life