I always enjoyed PSHE lessons: the questions that my Year 8 pupils posed about the ‘real world’ beyond the classroom where everything didn’t always fit neatly under the heading of ‘Maths’ or ‘Geography’ seemed relevant and meaningful to the children and I was always disappointed when these lessons were considered by some as just a tick-box exercise. The children would ask questions about how a person could become the Prime Minister, or why they had to wait until they were 18 to vote? They wondered about how people were able to borrow money and what would happen if they didn’t want to go to university? Why were these topics considered insignificant just because children are not required to take an exam in them? Surely understanding how to vote, how to use a bank account and how to be resilient online in this modern world should be recognised as important? So when I took on the Head of PSHE role at Vinehall School in 2015 I realised that I had an opportunity to transform this subject in the eyes of both pupils and parents alike. I wanted the children to learn about contemporary issues and learn skills that would help them throughout their lives, such as financial literacy and maintaining mental and physical health and well-being.
Our new look PSHE lessons were therefore born in 2015 and now a spiral curriculum from Reception to Year 8 builds on essential issues that help prepare our children for life. These lessons happen in an open classroom, without desks, which allows for debates, role plays, circle times and free movement and helps take our pupils away from the usual restrictions of sitting in formal rows. A large whole-wall blackboard allows our pupils to write their ideas and feelings at the same time and then take a step back to see them clearly and reflect. Two years later and these lessons became more prominent in our school timetable and we realised that ‘PSHE’ didn’t encapsulate all the lessons offered. So, after asking all the children for their opinions, Life Skills was chosen as the new name for this subject; a better name to reflect the breadth and character of content the children are studying. At Vinehall these lessons are considered to be hugely important in the curriculum, focused on embedding knowledge and skills that will enable pupils to flourish once they have moved on to senior school. The Life Skills curriculum includes trips to Parliament, the Sutton Life Centre and even Kidzania for our younger pupils.
As with life, this subject is continually evolving and a new addition to Life Skills lessons over the last two years has been the incorporation of religious understanding for Years 7 and 8. In these lessons pupils consider profound questions that affect the world in which we live and the way we relate to each other. Year 7 give presentations about how different religions define what is right and wrong and consider the question “What does it mean to have a conscience?” Year 8 look into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how these fit with different religions. Both years consider our identities and how these are shaped by our cultures, families, religions and peers.
Life Skills does not just take place within the designated curriculum time; every aspect of school life and ethos contributes to each pupil’s personal development. Clubs such as drama, debating, public speaking and digital leaders are examples of extra-curricular opportunities where skills for life are learned. Woven into every aspect of Vinehall life are our five Dispositions: we encourage our children to be Inquisitive, Collaborative, Resilient, Reflective and Courageous – habits of learning that transcend any single subject. The Dispositions start as our Pals in the Pre-Prep school and Juniors: Maisie Monkey is courageous, whilst Billy Bee is collaborative.
It is these dispositions and our Life Skills curriculum that are likely to help our children flourish, in the workplace and in their daily lives, and give them the interpersonal skills that help with teamwork and other social interactions, as well as the confidence and motivation to overcome challenges throughout their lives.
Assistant Head Pastoral