10 Things You’ll Never Be Taught At School But Need to Know Anyway

Everyone has something they wish they’d been taught at school.

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It might be a language they didn’t have the opportunity to learn, such as Mandarin Chinese or Russian, or a subject that’s taught in some schools but not others, such as Computer Science. It might be how to spot a logical fallacy. Or it might be something that’s usually beyond the purview of school education, such as how to go about meeting a partner.

The average British school student goes to school for around 700 hours per year, which seems like a lot when you add them all together, but that doesn’t in fact offer much room for adding extra classes. There are plenty of topics that schools can’t or won’t cover, sometimes because they’re assumed to be something that people will be taught by their parents or pick up by themselves, and sometimes because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. In this article, we take a look at ten such things that aren’t included in the average school curriculum, and see what it is that you might need to know.

1. How taxes really work

Not understanding taxes is a common situation for young adults.
Not understanding taxes is a common situation for young adults.

This is something schools cover to a certain extent, but it comes up so often when people complain about what they weren’t taught at school that it seemed necessary to include it. The issue is possibly that it’s usually taught a long time before the knowledge becomes practically useful; when you’re 13, an understanding of income tax is not immediately relevant to your life.
All the same, it is something most people pick up reasonably quickly, at least once they get their first payslip and see that their calculations of their subsequent living costs were a little on the optimistic side. And there are a whole load of other taxes to reckon with: a few of the more noticeable ones are VAT, council tax, car tax and inheritance tax. Beyond knowing that these taxes exist, in most circumstances (assuming you’re not self-employed) there’s not much more that you need to do, as most taxes are deducted automatically – council tax is an irritating exception. Allow for them in your budget, and you’ll be fine.

2. How to take care of your clothes

"Wait - did I leave a red sock in there?!"
“Wait – did I leave a red sock in there?!”

Hopefully your parents will have taught you how a washing machine works. Anything beyond that, however, may still remain a mystery; the fine art of getting various different types of stain out of various different types of fabric, for instance, is something you’re only likely to end up learning once you’ve stained said fabric and are frantically googling “how to get mustard out of wool”. You may or may not have learned other skills for looking after clothes, like how to keep moths out of wardrobes, how to sew on buttons, how to darn holes and replace zips, and when to take washing instructions that say “dry clean only” seriously and when to bung them in the washing machine at 30 degrees and hope for the best.
There’s also the difficulty that the way of looking after clothes that you’ve learned might work well in your parents’ house, but not so much when you’re a student going to a laundrette where the machines only have two temperatures to choose from, and your opportunities for drying and storing your clothes are limited. This, unfortunately, is best worked out using trial and error – though it might require the sacrifice of a favourite garment or two along the way.

3. How to manage personal boundaries

The social life of school tends to teach you something about managing personal boundaries, and hopefully you’ll learn more at home as well, but it’s still not something that comes naturally to everyone. These are the skills of knowing when and how to say no to someone who’s asking for your help, and how to deal with it when someone draws a boundary with you (which might be anything from “I don’t want to date you” to “I’d love to talk to you, but please don’t call after 9 o’clock.”)

Different people have different expectations of personal space.
Different people have different expectations of personal space.

When you’re still living at home, you can use those authority figures to draw boundaries for you; “my mum won’t let me do that” can sometimes be a safer way of saying “I’d rather not do that”. But when you’ve moved out, and how you use your time is solely up to you, you may need to work out how to draw these boundaries afresh. In university, where there’s a lot going on, the art of saying a polite no or an enthusiastic yes – whether that’s to a request to volunteer or an invitation to a party – is a vital one to master.

4. How to spot a scam (especially online)

We’ve all had the situation with a parent or grandparent of trying to explain how to download something like open source software from a website without an adblocker installed. There are several flashing download links, but one of them is the one that will lead you to the software you want, and the other five will lead you to download a set of virus-infected smileys, or a virus-infected toolbar, or just a straight-up virus without the trimmings. If you’re reasonably web-literate, you’re able to spot the right download link straight away. But trying to explain to someone with less computer experience just why that particular download link is safe and the others are to be avoided at all costs can be quite a challenge.

Even tech-savvy millennials can find themselves at risk.
Even tech-savvy millennials can find themselves at risk.

Spotting a scan can be just as tricky. Everyone knows not to send someone claiming to be a Nigerian prince their bank details, but they may be less careful with an email that purports to be from their employer. There are plenty of low-tech cons to look out for as well, like asking someone what the time is to make them check their phone, noting the location of the phone and then picking their pocket shortly afterwards. Common sense is all that’s really required to avoid this, but it’s hard to be sufficiently switched on at all times, and you might end up being burned a couple of times before you learn the necessary skills.

5. How to network

If corporate drinks receptions make you uncomfortable, find a way to make them work for you.
If corporate drinks receptions make you uncomfortable, find a way to make them work for you.

In some careers, such as journalism or recruitment, networking is mandatory. But in almost all other roles, it’s helpful, particularly if you’re hoping for rapid promotion. Yet chances are that your first introduction to “how to network” will be at a conference or similar event, in a time slot marked “refreshments and networking”, where your best bet will be to watch other people and see how it’s done.
There are certainly networking techniques that you can pick up, which might involve being confident enough to strike up a conversation, making sure that you have business cards or similar to hand, and following up with a polite email or LinkedIn connection request a reasonable amount of time afterwards. But otherwise, learning on the fly is the best option you’ve got.

6. How to chair or take minutes for a meeting

If you're taking minutes then you'll need to work fast.
If you’re taking minutes then you’ll need to work fast.

If you’re involved in student council or similar, you might have a shot at chairing a meeting; otherwise, this is another case of learning as you go along. Keeping a potentially fractious meeting to time and otherwise under control is an extremely challenging task, especially if the other attendees are senior to you, the chair, and you’re not in a position to exert authority to ensure that they behave. Any previously learned skills in general organisation and assertiveness come in handy here.
Keeping minutes can be harder still, especially given that you’re very unlikely to know shorthand. You have to work out on the fly what’s worth writing down and what isn’t (unless you’re the rare person who can write quickly enough to keep up with the conversation). Minutes are a vital part of any meeting, but keeping them is often a thankless task.

7. How to understand contracts

Beware if your prospective employers are reluctant to discuss the terms of your contract.
Beware if your prospective employers are reluctant to discuss the terms of your contract.

You know that you ought to read contracts thoroughly, whether that’s your work contract, your letting agreement, or any other contract you might end up signing. But you’ve probably never been taught what ought to be in a letting contract, and how to spot anything that should be there but isn’t, or is there but shouldn’t be. And you don’t want to find out the problems only after you’ve signed.
First of all, remember that no one should be asking you to sign a contract that you haven’t understood. So if you’re hearing anything along the lines of “it’s fine, sign it, none of our other clients made a fuss” rather than “OK, what seems to be the problem?” if you show reluctance to sign, then that’s already a red flag. Beyond this, consider what you’d actually like the contract to say; do you think everything in it is reasonable? And ultimately, if you’re really worried and have the money, there are lawyers out there who would be happy to help.

8. How to behave in a business environment

"I've never felt more office-appropriate!"
“I’ve never felt more office-appropriate!”

Most schools will spend some time – if not enough – teaching you business skills such as how to write a CV and covering letter, and how to handle a job interview. What they often won’t bother to teach you is how to behave from that point onwards. For instance, you probably won’t be told how to approach a meeting where you’re disagreeing with people who are senior to you, and while that’s your manager’s job to explain, you might only end up learning your mistake come appraisal time. Similarly, work dress codes can be a world of unwritten rules that can be tricky to navigate, especially if your natural taste in clothes doesn’t lend itself easily towards business casual.
Among the trickiest things are issues such as negotiating an increase in salary. Thankfully, there is lots of advice online for this, as it’s not usually an area where your manager can help you to the same extent. Finding yourself a mentor who works in the same field, but perhaps not for the same company or at least in the same department can make a world of difference in approaching these issues effectively.

9. How to cope with mental health problems

Look out for warning signs, both with yourself and with friends.
Look out for warning signs, both with yourself and with friends.

You might well have been taught first aid in school, and possibly some health information beyond that; for instance, what kind of ill health requires a day off, what requires a visit to the GP and what requires an urgent trip to A&E. But in most cases that teaching will have been restricted to physical ill health, and not mental ill health. That’s usually a realm you’ll only get to know through personal experience, whether that’s yourself or secondhand through friends and family members.
That’s a real pity, because being able to recognise budding mental health conditions is so useful in ensuring they are properly treated, such as being able to tell the difference between a few bad days making you feel a bit miserable, and depression that you ought to be seeing a doctor for. A little more understanding could make all the difference, just as knowing how to identify the symptoms of meningitis saves lives.

10. How to behave with small children

Bonding with your friends' children can be incredibly rewarding.
Bonding with your friends’ children can be incredibly rewarding.

A few decades ago, when families were both larger and more likely to live near to one another, the idea that people might need teaching how to behave with small children would probably have seemed absurd. Most people would have grown up with younger brothers and sisters, and if they didn’t, there were probably cousins close by as well. But now almost one in four children in the UK are only children and fewer and fewer people have families close by, it’s much more likely that someone might grow up without encountering any small children until the point when they or their peers end up having their own.
It’s therefore the case that many of us do need to learn how to behave with small children – not just parenting skills for our own, where at least there are pre- and ante-natal classes available, but how to behave around other people’s. As with so many of the skills and abilities on this list, it’s something that most people simply have to figure out as they go along.

What do you wish you were taught in school? Tell us in the comments!


Image credits: colouring pencils; books; calculating; laundry; personal space; security; networking drinks; warning triangle; carnival mask; heart carving; tongues out