As we all know, Life Skills (PSHE) permeates so many aspects of school life, not just what goes on in the dedicated lessons, and we work hard not to lose sight of that at Vinehall. Coming back to school two weeks ago was unusual, even for the most experienced old hands; a desire for a balance of the return to the rigour of the classroom and a supportive environment to help with the inevitable wobbles was one that was never going to be straightforward to strike. However, the community has done really well in creating a buzzing and positive atmosphere so quickly.

In a time of such uncertainty and interest in what the past year’s events will mean in terms of real changes in behaviour over the long-term, never has the choice of ‘Life Skills’ as a subject name seemed so apt. Many of us in the school and, no doubt amongst the parent body, are harnessing either very new or even long-forgotten skills to marshal our way through days full of half-knowing what we might be able to do in a few weeks’ time and what it could look and feel like. It is exciting but it can be daunting.

Children are regularly spoken of in terms of their ability to be naturally resilient and this is absolutely right. However, it is still the case that children need to be given the chance to settle back into things and be allowed to make mistakes, particularly after being away from varied human contact for a significant period of time. So, on top of the theme of the fortnight of ‘fitness’, there has been a real focus on kindness within the community and the children have risen to the challenge very well, as they always do. Whilst the pupil body in the school is here to learn about maths, carpentry and many other academic subjects, they are also here to understand the best way to negotiate the myriad of social interactions that they encounter on any given day and to reflect on how to put forth the best version of themselves as human beings.

The week before we came back to school physically was British Pie Week, where we explored friendship pies (and apple ones too!) in the Pre-Prep and also the ‘ingredients’ that make up the pie of fundamental British values that underpin so much of what we do in the Prep school. I was particularly impressed with the insight our Year 8 pupils brought to our discussions on democracy. The work that had been done in the Michaelmas Term within one of our Citizenship modules had clearly taken root in many of our cohort and I do hope some of them look to pursue politics at their senior schools.

This week, we were also pleased to begin the process of ‘Lenten Friends’ again. As we have missed so much of the Lent Term in person, we have decided to extend this to the first half of the Summer Term in order to recognise the importance of being positive forces in each other’s lives. For those that are new to the school, Lenten Friends is an anonymous support system where children pick a name out of a hat and act as a positive force in that person’s life for an assigned period of time. The anonymous nature of the event promotes benevolence without personal reward and the feeling that someone is looking after you and not knowing who they are is a very special thing and very appropriate for the time. Things will have to change a bit with friends having to be in the same bubble but the philosophy will remain the same.

In the Life Skills lessons themselves since our return, I have been out and about and seen many things. I’ve enjoyed conversations about friendship in Year 1; observed an interesting discussion about healthy eating in Year 2 where pea risotto played an unexpectedly front and centre role; I watched Mrs Barrett talk about friendships from days gone by in Year 4; environmental concerns galore have been discussed in Year 7 and the children right at the top of the school in Year 8 have begun to understand some of the history of Israel and Palestine and why certain places are significant to different faiths.

This is a busy, bustling school and, as the world changes around us, our Life Skills department mirrors this to prepare our pupils for the challenges they will face today and in the years to come. We move next term into gaining a deeper understanding of our interactions and relationships with people, both online and offline, and all the staff are thoroughly looking forward to seeing what the children can do.

Dom Britt