We all remember PSHE. That lesson no one really cared about; where you learned “important” things like how far a paper aeroplane made out of a leaflet about drugs could fly, how to put a condom on various items of fruit, and, most crucially, that some girl with appalling acting skills was crying in a petrol station café because they had done x thing that you were being advised against (and yes, it was always the same video). Did anyone ever learn anything useful in PSHE? Anything that helped with life in the real world? Most people did not.
PSHE is an awkward, cumbersome mixture of a group of students who don’t care, a teacher who (for the most part) does not want to be there, and a series of embarrassing topics that most teenagers think they already know everything about. The topics covered in PSHE are the sort of stuff that schools should be teaching, but if we really care about our young people then we need to accept that there are more pieces of information they need than can be taught in that environment.
Life skills education is sorely lacking in our schools. Yes, you may be able to write a perfect Shakespearian sonnet. Yes, you may know all of the stages of a star’s life. Yes, you may be able to differentiate in a million-and-one different ways. But can you do the important things? Did school ever teach you the best way to do an interview? Did it ever teach you how to balance a budget, or even make a budget for that matter? What about signing up for a local doctor, or registering to vote, or renting a house?
Our schools fail to deliver life skills because they can’t deliver them. If PSHE taught us one thing, it’s that skills need to be delivered in a way that is fun and interactive and innovative, and not through meaningless embarrassing role plays that will be forgotten the instant they are over. It also taught us that learning about life skills issues shouldn’t be compulsory, because the thing that derailed the lessons for those who were interested in learning was the behaviour of those who weren’t.
So, if schools don’t deliver these skills, and if it’s not as simple as just adding extra topics into PSHE, what is the solution?
In short, the solution is to provide those skills in a non-compulsory, informal session: life skills workshops. Imagine an after-school club which delivered life skills – if you wanted to learn about the topic that was on offer that week then you would be able to go, if you didn’t feel like that was something important to you, then you would not have to. It would be an environment conducive to learning, to trying new things, and to delivering the crucial skills that all young people should have when they leave school. Workshops where, rather than one of your teachers issuing a boring diatribe about how important something is, passionate, enthusiastic volunteers and experts would give real, practical, hands-on tips, advice and guidance.
There are a vast array of subjects that could be covered. Everything from everyday skills like cooking, cleaning, managing your money, to bigger civic issues like learning about politics and how to impact the society around you. It simply isn’t the case that young people are disinterested in learning about life skills, but the fact of the matter is that we, as a society, are failing the next generation by providing them with an education system that sees them leave school without the skills they need to take on life’s realities. Life skills workshops would offer a solution to remedy that problem – delivering skills in voluntary, informal, useful sessions that most young people might actually want to attend.
The problem may lie in our education system, but the solution lies adjacent to it; bringing workshops that make a real difference and deliver real skills to schools, in such a format that every child who wants to participate can, and those who do not want to can choose not to attend. This is a solution that could work nationally, but we can make it work in Southampton first. Delivering these workshops successfully on a local level would be a great first step towards getting them delivered nationally, so that every child, in every town, city, and country of the United Kingdom can have the opportunity to learn skills that will make a real difference to them. We, as a generation who didn’t benefit from receiving this kind of workshop, owe it to the next generation to make that happen.