Future Shock: a new movement in education
Last Friday, our Future Shock event brought together leading thinkers, policy makers and those working in areas of social innovation and technology to talk about the future: specifically the six areas that we at Nesta think we should be talking about at the next election, but aren't.
Our education focused session considered a new movement in education that seems to be gaining momentum from the grassroots. This movement focuses on combining academic education with practical learning, and traditional teaching with new technologies. It explores the needs of young people in a new economy where automation requires a strong focus on creativity and ingenuity.
In some cases it is formalised into organisations like the Studio Schools Trust, in others it is coming from individual schools and teachers even where formal structures do not yet exist. We wanted to hear from innovaters from this movement who are working on the ground to provide such opportunities for young people.
We were priviledged to be joined by Simon Collins, Deputy Principlal of the Brit School in Croydon, which has been implementing creative approaches to learning as a school for many years, and Debbie Forster, MD of Apps fo Good who provide opportunities for young people to develop their own apps as cross curricular design projects through workshops across the UK.
Although we see many new schools such as free schools and University Technical Colleges developing in this field, Simon shared with us some of the lessons learned from over twenty years of the Brit school. Exploring their focus on creative arts and strong industry links, he identified the significant ongoing challenges of catering the needs of students while being judged based on academic results in a few subjects.
A significant aspect of this that he identified was the structure of the new 'Progress 8' performance measures that schools are judged with. Although lauding the focus on progress from different starting points rather than just end grades, Simon illustrated the devaluing of subjects, such as the arts, inherent in such measures. He contrasted this with the stories of real students, who often bring together different aspects of the curriculum in order to reach success.
Apps for Good have a clear focus on bringing together such understanding from across the curriculum into a project focused on design and realised through developing technical skills.
Debbie Forster shared some amazing examples of young people creating apps that have had an impact in their communities, both in urban inner cities and rural countryside. Notable was the team whose app focused on managing cattle has been a big hit with farmers. Both projects showed some of the great work that is already happening both within the school system and around it.
Although the focus on creative arts and technology could on paper seem very different, it was clear during the session that the values that underpin the activities of both organisations have much in common, from starting with the aptitudes and cultures of young people to linking aspects of traditional subjects with those of new developments into a interdisicplinary approach to education.
They also highlighted the fact that innovation in education so often comes from the ground up, and perhaps rather than looking for policy to construct the system, we should be focusing on how it can remove barriers that face beneficial developments. With that in mind, attention turned to the delegates joing us for their comments, questions and discussion.
We explored what the barriers to making learning connections happen, whether these be across subjects in interdisciplinary work or between education institutions and industries.
Discussion soon turned to the way that we judge the learning of young people. There is a perspective often taken that the qualifications that young people recieve are the 'end result' of schooling with learning serving the achievement of those qualifications. 'Joined up' learning experiences such as those discussed are often not captured by these qualifications. However, there is an alternative - seeing the learning as the end result of school and the examinations young people take as simply one measure of this end result.
The strongest theme I came away from the discussion with was that for many educators policy is seen to constrain the education system rather than construct it. That construction is done by the people working with young people on the ground, and the measures of their success need to be appropriate to the achievements the young people make.
What was clear also is that there is no sense that current education policy enables or supports the kinds of creative and automation resistant skills that were discussed in the 'Creativity vs. Robots' workshop.
There is a rich seam of potential for young people to achieve great things when they can work in this way, and both national projects and entire schools taking this approach. For policymakers, the question we think that should be on the table is how we can support and scale these successful examples.
We have identified four policy recommendations we think should be explored to begin to make this happen.
1. End the barriers to interdisciplinary teaching. In particular:
- An arts subject in the English Baccalaureate. At present, young people who are strong in sciences are positively discouraged from considering the arts as a valuable complement.
- Ofsted should report on cross-curricular learning.