Teaching skills for life is an essential element of the prep years and helps develop confidence, knowhow and a spirit of responsibility. We speak to schools that are building empowered and engaged future citizens from the earliest years

Teaching tomorrow’s skills
JAGS pupils receive dedicated teaching on the worlds of money and work to build key skills for life early

James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS)

At JAGS in Dulwich, pupils in the Junior School get an early start in developing skills for navigating the complexities of modern life. “We are committed to creating a holistic education which ensures our pupils thrive in every situation,” says Kerri-Anne Bannon, Deputy Head, Pastoral at JAGS Junior School. “In tandem with our Maths curriculum, a carefully curated PSHCE curriculum has been developed which includes a dedicated unit on the world of money and work.”

This money and work element expands as pupils progress through the school, so units expand to understanding job opportunities, understanding financial influences and attitudes and balancing needs and wants. “On top of this, guest speakers from the financial sector provide firsthand insight into investment and savings,” says Kerri-Anne Bannon. The thinking here is clear – promoting healthy discussions about money from a young age.

There is focus, too, on developing pupils’ social skills and preparing them for the next stages of life. “We are currently working towards UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools Award, with the aim of achieving Silver accreditation by July 2024.” This year, the school also unveiled its ‘Bee Brilliant!’ Junior School values. “They crystallise all the attributes we hope to see in our pupils, as they are inspired to be Kind, Brave, Respectful, Resilient, Inclusive and Authentic.” Pupil Voice plays a pivotal role in co-curricular activities to ensure what’s on offer taps into children’s interests. “Following feedback, we introduced skateboarding, fencing and bouldering clubs last year,” says Kerri-Anne Bannon. There’s an extensive sports programme to ensure pupils interact with new peers.

“At JAGS Junior School, guest speakers from the financial sector provide firsthand insight into investment and savings” 

Communication is critical and Kerri-Anne Bannon says there are lots of practical routes to building practical skills. For instance, JAGS Junior School has close links to local care homes and this offers the opportunity for pupils to exchange letters with residents. “They recognise how the form of such letters differs from those, for example, to our local MP when they are lobbying over an issue close to their hearts.” They are also taught about getting the tone right with other forms of communication – especially emails – within computing lessons. 

JAGS is introducing 1:1 digital devices for all pupils in Years 3 to 6, so digital safety (and savvy) is critical. “As well as engaging with Childnet and celebrating Safer Internet Day, we explicitly teach children the tools to stay safe online as part of our day-to-day classroom practice.” The issue of online safety is specifically addressed. For example, pupils are taught the difference between online and real-world friendships, as well as how to get help if they ever feel in danger. Pupil teaching is supported by Parent Talks – ensuring everyone is on the same page when it comes to appropriate use of digital devices. Children are explicitly taught about self-regulation and when to switch off devices.

Knowledge and skills for life are enabled in many other ways at JAGS. Pupils participate in Junior Duke Award, which has a focus on practical life skills and independence. There’s a mentorship scheme to help the older pupils at JAGS Junior – pairing Year 6 pupils with Year 12 students in JAGS Senior. This is mutually beneficial – developing leadership skills for older students and helping mentees benefit from interactions with positive role models. JAGS Junior pupils are also taught about the value of contributing to both local and global community. For instance, they write Christmas cards to residents of nearby care homes, support drives for the local food bank and fundraise in response to real-world global situations for charities such as the Red Cross.

James Allen’s Girls’ School jags.org.uk

Teaching tomorrow’s skills
At The Kingsley School, a new curriculum ensures pupils are introduced to key themes early, and have lots of opportunities to build skills such as collaboration

The Kingsley School

At The Kingsley School in Royal Leamington Spa, a fresh initiative has just been unveiled to futureproof pupils for the world to come. “We have rolled out our new 4D Curriculum in the Prep School this year, following an extensive audit, research and design process,” says Head of Prep Jennie Phillips. “The curriculum is designed to prepare pupils for future success and is built around the key skills that will not only stand them in good stead during their school years but are also highly valued by employers.”

The new curriculum embraces a wide range of social and environmental themes, and all planning is carefully constructed to encourage an early understanding of areas such as diversity, inclusivity and sustainability. Pupils work on challenges and projects set in real-world scenarios, encourage them to make links between subjects and themes while building an understanding of their place in our a fast-changing and increasingly globalised world.

The Kingsley School recently established a partnership with award-winning start-up 8billionideas. Its team deliver future-focused workshops and challenge packages that empower students to demonstrate entrepreneurship, digital fluency and collaboration. Along the way, they also gain an understanding of the journey from innovative idea to final product. “The result is a school environment where pupils understand that taking risks and making mistakes is a crucial part of the learning process,” says Jennie Phillips. She adds that it’s also important in teaching them to value the ideas and opinions of others – and to celebrate their own and others’ success. “Pupils perform extremely well academically against national benchmarks, but gains in confidence, independence and resilience are equally highly valued.”

“Pupils at Kingsley understand that taking risks and making mistakes is a crucial part of the learning process”

Enrichment is another key way in which The Kingsley School helps children to grow and develop – and learn to make choices. With activities as diverse as First Aid, horse riding, yoga, debating and STEAM Challenge, there’s something to appeal to the widest range of interests and spark the curiosity and courage to try new things. Self-led learning is one of the many strengths of this approach, as noted by ISI Inspectors recently, and it also helps children to be confident communicators.

Co-curricular activities also build strengths and confidence, and with plenty of opportunities for participation in music and sport. Musicians at The Kingsley School have multiple opportunities to perform, in string ensembles, orchestra and choirs, while gifted players have the opportunity to play alongside counterparts within Warwick Schools Foundation Orchestra. Sports teams are also a big opportunity to shine, with the school participating across many disciplines. “Kingsley is a school where children are encouraged to experiment with a wide variety of disciplines, which has led to success in tennis, skiing, martial arts, gymnastics, cricket and rugby,” says Jennie Phillips. “We also have a long and successful history in equestrian events, with pupils as young as eight competing at senior level.”

With development and expansion of Foundation sporting facilities, there is the opportunity to increase the school’s offering, and develop further sports that are seeing a surge in popularity for both boys and girls, including cricket and golf. “Both at Kingsley Prep, and throughout the wider Foundation, there is an understanding that the pupil experience is top of the agenda in order to provide the best preparation for future success. There must be a commitment to innovation and the flexibility to provide the best outcome for each individual pupil,” adds Jennie Phillips.

The Kingsley School thekingsleyschool.co.uk

Embley Tomsoperphotography
Embley School pupils learn practical skills through fun projects and workshops. Photos above and top: Tom Soper Photography

Embley School

At Embley School in Hampshire, practical skills acquisition starts in the Early Years in a fun way. “In Reception to Year 2 the children take part in money management activities, including setting up and running a shop,” says Head of Prep Sheina Wright. Learning all about money continues via the Maths curriculum throughout Prep years, and with specific events to help children understand the complexities of earning, saving and spending. “During Enrichment Week Year 5 & 6 took part in ‘Money Matters Workshops’ with our Head of Economics. There was an introduction to managing money and investment beliefs, and a focus on financial budgeting and saving. Year 3 to 6 took part in ‘The Big (Little) Boat Build’ where children had to work to a budget and buy the resources they needed to build a boat which was fit for purpose.”

Linking practical and theoretical knowledge is key and is enabled by P4C (Philosophy 4 Children) sessions. “At Embley we have a ‘Curious Classroom approach’ and P4C helps to create that community of Enquiry.  The aim is for each child not to ‘win’ an argument but to become clearer, more accurate, less self-contradictory and more aware of other arguments and values before reaching a conclusion,” adds Sheina Wright.

PSHE lessons discuss active and passive listening, helping children to learn how to listen carefully and respond appropriately. These lessons are also used to give children the opportunity to consider and discuss the issue of rights and responsibilities. This starts in Year 2 where children learn about rights, how to uphold them for themselves and others, and the responsibilities attached to this power. By Year 4 children learn to draw on their own sense of right and wrong to help make decisions. “Using some simple assertiveness techniques can help children feel more empowered in their lives – and help them make safe choices.”

“At Embley, the aim is for each child not to ‘win’ an argument but to become clearer, more accurate and more aware of other arguments”

Embley Prep has its own Student Council, plus prefect roles and a buddy system to help establish and develop Pupil Voice. “It is important for children to understand that their voice can create an impact and make a change, from Social Action to things which affect their day-to-day school life,” says Sheina Wright. This has been demonstrated rather notably this term with a new catering company at the school. Its ‘You said – We did’ whiteboard lets children add their own menu ideas.

The co-curricular programme is a cornerstone, going beyond knowledge acquisition to focus on character development. “Giving things a go is not just about trying something once, it is important that even if it is out of their comfort zone that they give new things a ‘proper go’.” With everything from conservation and enquiry clubs to meets for film buffs, marine biology enthusiasts, ballet fans and would-be journalists there’s plenty to keep children engaged. Older pupils also have the opportunity to sail, climb and ski.

Literature and libraries are celebrated at the school, but traditional and modern co-exist happily. “Children have an individual school iPad from Reception to Year 6, but it is always used to enhance rather than replace,” says Sheina Wright. She says literature-based and book-inspired English lessons give a grounding in quality drafting, writing and edit – whatever the medium. Both PSHE and Computer Science lessons from Reception to Year 6 focus directly on digital knowhow and staying safe online, and understanding rights and responsibilities. There’s a lot of scenario-based learning to help children consider problems they may encounter. “This allows our pupils to consider what may happen online and how they might respond appropriately and safely.”

Embley has strong community links – including with local residential care homes – to give children insights and build a wider sense of responsibility. Care home residents are invited to the Nativity and hosted by Year 6, who serve them tea and cake. And in summer, guests are invited back to watch the Year 6 school production. “Year 5 take over the responsibility of hosting and more cake and tea is provided – it’s a great relationship and we all love it.”

Embley School embley.org.uk

Further reading: Why school partnerships add value on all sides