Life skills squeezed out of curriculum by academic subjects

The pressure on academic subjects is pushing life skills out of timetables – and organisations trying to support schools are struggling to get them back in.

At an event in central London on Tuesday run by social enterprise support group UnLtd, representatives of charities and social enterprises discussed the problems of incorporating life skills into school curriculums.

Chloe Surowiec, from Teach First’s innovation unit, said: “It is very hard to get schools on board with developing life skills because the curriculum is so crammed and the importance is placed on things valued by Ofsted.

“That actually makes it very difficult to create space in the curriculum.”

When discussing “soft skills” in schools, the group suggested using the phrase “leadership skills” or “habits” instead. It was agreed that “soft” implied other subjects were “hard” and more academically important.

Teach First’s innovation unit has funded a number of school-based initiatives, including the Grubb Clubb and Mindful Music.

But Kate Wareham, executive director of music charity National Orchestra For All, said pressures on the curriculum were becoming more noticeable.

“We have teachers who come to us and say they really struggle to get music into the school programme because lunchtimes are being taken up with revision sessions for core subjects. It is the same after school.

“As a maths graduate, I think maths is a brilliant subject, but you need other skills. Things like music build confidence and encourage teamwork.”

In August, Liam Harris, chairman of the National Association for the Teaching of Drama, told Schools Week that budget pressures were killing theatre trips.

Tuesday’s event, hosted by law firm Hogan Lovell, was aimed at creating ideas for schools on how they could collaborate with outside partners.

Attendees included NumberFit, which aims to improve attainment in maths, Ashoka, which identifies “Changemaker Schools” that prioritise empathy and teamwork skills, primary school literacy programme Tales Toolkit, and careers education programme Talentino.

It is the second year the event has been held and this year was supported by Teach First.

Ben Smith, ventures manager at the Big Venture Challenge programme at UnLtd, said: “Our main aim was to bring together ventures that innovate within the education sector and schools who are constantly looking to introduce new ways of teaching.

“I was really pleased with the event and look forward to the follow-on. My big vision is to introduce new thinking to the sector as a whole and influence policymakers. We hope this is a good early step.”

UnLtd will publish a series of blogs with more information about each of the subject areas discussed throughout the evening on its website

Pic: Circle time: attendees at Tuesday’s event

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