Developing life skills holds the key to unlocking opportunities
Renee Flourentzou, Head of School at West Lea’s Learning for Life Campus
As educators, at some point in our careers we’ve all been asked by a pupil “why are we learning this?” or “when will I ever use this in real life?” or even “can I not just use a calculator when I’m older?”
We all recognise the importance of making learning relevant to pupils lives and at West Lea, providing them with the confidence and skills to thrive beyond the school gates is at the forefront of everything we do. So, whilst the impacts of Covid-19 have undoubtedly thrown an additional spanner into the works, this time for young people is precious and it is crucial they are still able to make the most of it.
At West Lea we have an innovative “learning for life” approach which is built around the idea that everyone should feel valued and included. It is an ethos which underpins everything we do. Our ambition is to break down barriers and challenge perceptions of young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). We want them to understand the value that they can bring to society – just like anyone else – and that nothing is out of reach with the right support.
Here are some of the main ways we actively help our pupils develop key life skills, foster independence, and prepare them for the world of work:
- The journey starts at primary level. We start by taking our pupils out into the community and giving them what is often their first real experience of independence. This might include visiting a shop, learning how to handle money and budget, basic cookery skills or how to use public transport safely. For many, it helps to inspire our young people and give them the confidence to try new things and take on new challenges. Despite the challenges the national lockdown and tighter restrictions bring, we have still been able to replicate certain experiences for students, including using our empty shops (while they are closed due to Covid-19) to teach students retail skills, customer service skills, and how to become till trained.
- Our ‘passport’ approach. Each student is given a passport which contains five key areas for them to build skills around – community engagement; travel and work skills; managing medication; self-care and daily living; and social and communication skills. The aim of the passports is to act as a guide to students’ life at school but also to motivate them to accomplish different tasks. Once students achieve a certain level in each area, they receive a stamp and gain certificates, and at the end of the year we hold a graduation to celebrate their achievements. As students see themselves tick off skills they have achieved, it helps to build their confidence and raises their aspirations about what they can accomplish in life.
- Supported Internships. Our learning for life process culminates with our Supported Internship Programme for students aged 16-25. The programme offers four days a week in a workplace with the support of a job coach. The experience is hugely beneficial for many of our students as it allows them to realise their potential and also reinstates belief amongst themselves and their parents. It shows them there are plenty of opportunities out there for them and that they have the skillset and knowledge to make a valuable contribution to society. The impact of Covid-19 has meant that some of our Supported Internships have been put on hold, however many are still taking place following government guidelines and social distancing, including James’ internship at Beerblefish Brewing Co., where he has proved to be a huge hit. In addition to James, many of our other students have continued their internships throughout the pandemic and have become key workers at various businesses, such as Sainsbury’s, Yodel, Nando’s and even the school kitchen! We appreciate the value our internships offer not only our young people, but also businesses, therefore we are taking all the necessary steps to ensure they can continue safely where possible.
Many of our students have also volunteered at the Felix Project, an Enfield based charity which is fighting food poverty and hunger, working within their own bubble to continue developing skills while supporting those in the community who need it most.
Whilst we cannot hide that Covid-19 has certainly added additional complications to what we are helping our young people to accomplish, we are most certainly not letting it beat us. We are continuing to offer students all the opportunities they need to flourish and develop into outstanding young people who have the life skills they need to thrive in whatever direction they choose.