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Shaping the future, shifting the system: what does the future of education look like?


As is so often the case with inspiring and thought-provoking conferences, I came away from Nesta’s Education Summit with more questions than answers. But what was overwhelming was an energy and an enthusiasm to take responsibility for finding answers to these challenging questions, to shape the future to be the best it can be for our young people.

What does a focus on social-emotional skills mean for academic excellence?

Many argue that the current education system is too focused on academic excellence, but developing social-emotional skills does not need to come at the expense of academia, they are both important and hugely intertwined.

The development of social-emotional skills doesn’t reside in another addition to the curriculum, their development should be embedded throughout the school community. We all have a responsibility to model the skills that we expect from our young people, from the Headteacher to the cleaner, to parents, we should all embody the same values and behaviours we expect from our students.

That said, Tom Ravenscroft made the compelling point that using skills is not the same as developing skills. We cannot expect students to improve by chance, we need to be thoughtful about how these skills are built, and recognise that different skills will require different approaches to development. Despite most teachers entering the profession because they’re excited about developing well rounded individuals, this doesn’t form a part of teacher training. We need to need to provide teachers with the skills and guidance to support young people to develop social emotional skills.

Can we measure skills like resilience, grit and problem solving?

There is much critique of our current culture of excessive measurement and evaluation, but this does have some role to play in quality provision of skills-based education.

But this evaluation should be used to inform practise, rather than say that something has ‘worked’. It should be helpful in enabling teachers to understand their practise and their students better, rather than an extra thing to do.

I have confidence that we are able to measure social-emotional skills, but we need to be specific about what we want to measure, the language we use and the purpose and limitations of evaluation. We need to be careful to avoid getting caught up in undefinable terms, and be practical about the outcomes we’re interested in and the measures which will enable us to best assess these. Schools need guidance and support on how to measure these skills, and critically how to use the data from these measures to inform teaching practise.

How do we define success for our young people?

This is a big question, which draws uncertainty on the very fundamentals of schools and the wider education system.

We currently rely on school league tables as a measure of comparison, based on academic results. But as Andria Zafirakou, winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2018, poignantly closed her speech: a child leaving school with straight 9’s, but who goes on to commit suicide two weeks later, is not a success. A child who is self-harming due to the stress and pressure they’re feeling during their GCSE’s is not a success. We cannot measure the success of our education system based on academic results alone.

As Rob Carpenter summarised, the fundamental purpose of education is to support children to be present in the world, to realise that they are changemakers and empower them to make sense of the world.

There seemed to be agreement that young people themselves need to be involved in these discussions, and empowered to take ownership over their own futures. Our responsibility is to provide them with an environment to do this, and help to unlock the passion and potential in each child.

These thoughts are based on the many inspiring talks from throughout Nesta’s 2019 Summit, particularly Liz Robinson (Big Education), Rob Carpenter (Inspire Partnership), Andria Zafirakou (Global Teacher Prize Winner 2018), Vicki Sellick (Nesta), Tom Ravenscroft (Skills Builder Partnership) and Robin Banerjee (University of Sussex).

Yes Futures' vision is a future where all young people are confident, resilient and lead fulfilling lives. To find out more about Yes Futures and our programmes, please contact Sophie Bartlett, Impact Manager: sophie@yesfutures.org.


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