How to prepare pupils for life after school

Lesley Franklin, principal of George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, explains the importance of a school’s role in preparing pupils for the next chapter

Not only do pupils in S5 and S6 have to contend with the pressure of exams, they must face the potentially daunting task of leaving the comfort of the school environment to embark on their next chapter. 

Whether that means going on to study at university, pursuing a vocational course or entering the world of work, it is our role as educators to prepare them for this leap. 

While academic excellence and technical skills are clearly important, it is equally as important that we help our young people develop softer life skills including problem-solving, resilience, confidence, teamwork and time management. 

Such skills are equally, if not more, important to life after school. That’s because entering the workforce for the first time can be a real challenge. School leavers and graduates face the task of standing out from a crowd of equally inexperienced, but keen and clever candidates.

Providing pupils with a clear path to follow will help when it comes to making big decisions throughout life 

Even if they do manage to pip their counterparts to the post, young people can struggle to get on in the world of work if they are not equipped with the right skills. Without knowing how to meet the expectations of their employers and colleagues, even the most academically strong could stumble at an early stage in their career.

According to a study by CIMA, two-thirds of businesses cite a lack of ‘soft skills’ – life skills like resilience and self-management – as barriers to graduates’ success, whilst eight out of ten school leavers are found to ‘lack essential workplace skills’. The fact is, many employers feel that young people simply don’t have the skills necessary to be effective members of the workforce.

Schools have a responsibility to ensure that pupils develop the soft skills necessary to navigate the world of work. Soft skills are not necessarily innate. Just like ‘hard’ skills, soft skills can actually be taught.

Encouraging creativity

That’s why at George Heriot’s School we have introduced programmes and activities which have been specifically designed to encourage the development of our students’ soft skills. These include work experience and voluntary service programmes, enterprise challenges, lessons to help students identify their strengths and work-ready qualities, challenges that encourage teamwork and creativity, and a focus on punctuality and smartness. 

Over the past few years, we have forged strong relationships with some of Edinburgh’s most exemplary businesses. By providing our students with the opportunity to get hands-on experience at these fantastic companies, we provide them with the resources to thrive in a place of work.

As well as hands-on experience, we also encourage business owners and professionals to give talks to the pupils and provide valuable advice and anecdotes of their own career progression. This exposure to real-life examples from a variety of industries allows the pupils to understand that there is no ‘set route’ and that skills other than academics are important.

This not only benefits schools and their students, but it also provides businesses with a pool of candidates from which to recruit, particularly in areas where they might be facing skills shortages such as engineering or childcare.  

Principal Lesley Franklin with pupils at George Heriot’s School

We also focus on promoting a culture of kindness – such an important but often overlooked trait. Our unofficial motto is ‘work hard, be kind, be happy’ and, I believe, this helps to remind our students to look after one another and themselves. This is a mindset we are keen to encourage from an early age.

Extra support for senior pupils in S5 and S6 when it comes to subject choice and UCAS requirements can also be vital. Providing pupils with a clear path to follow will help when it comes to making big decisions throughout life.

As part of our S6 curriculum at George Heriot’s we provide extensive assistance and support when it comes to subject choice, offering clear guidance on career progression and requirements for university. Having the choice when it comes to subjects, university degrees and careers opens up a multitude of opportunities. 

Finally, when it comes to the everyday life skills, schools can play a role in providing these much-needed tips and advice. Something as simple as teaching pupils what they can cook in student accommodation or how to manage their finances will go a long way to setting them up for the challenges that lie ahead. 

We must make the final year of school an unforgettable one, for all the right reasons, and set our pupils on the right path for a lifetime of opportunities. 

It is our responsibility to equip our young people with the skills they need to succeed in their life after school. Clearly that means ensuring academic excellence, but it also means nurturing essential life skills from an early age, so we can ensure that our young people can have the confidence to succeed. 


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