An education system for the future

At Nesta, we are working towards shaping the future of education in the UK by causing shifts in the system. Despite reform in recent years, formal education remains exam-focused. Our flagship conference asks the simple question:

What would an education system that really prepares young people for the future look like?

We want to see a shift to a future-focused curriculum; one which prioritises the skills that young people will actually need in our uncertain future. We want to see creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and digital skills embedded in learning, alongside a system which prioritises social and emotional intelligence.

Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), will be discussing the current landscape of education and why we need to broaden the curriculum at Nesta Education 2019.

Before taking up his current post at the V&A in 2017, Tristram was Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Education. He also has an impressive academic background; possessing a doctorate in Victorian history and authoring books on Friedrich Engels, the British Empire and Victorian civic pride.

At the V&A, he is committed to supporting and designing education through the museum, as well as to opening up debate around the colonial origins of some of the collections. The V&A was originally founded in 1852 ‘to elevate the Art-Education of the whole people’, and as such, education is at the heart of what they do. They run a number of educational programmes, such as DesignLab Nation; a nationwide programme supporting the teaching of the relaunched Design & Technology GCSE.

Tristram Hunt

Nesta believes that education must support a broad range of skills, including creativity, problem-solving and collaboration, rather than a narrow focus on academic results. Our Future Skills Report shows that these broader skills are going to become more and more important in the near future, so education needs to reflect that. Our recent blog highlights that we all have a role to play in making sure that the young people of today become adults of tomorrow who are equipped with the skills to be successful in a changing world.

In the run-up to the Nesta Education 2019 conference, we spoke to Tristram about what a broader education might look like.

"There is a pressing need to equip young people with the skills they need for the coming creative economy."

Nesta: What skills do you think students at school in the UK now need for their future?

Tristram: A recent report by LinkedIn found that the most in-demand ‘soft skill’ for 2019 is Creativity – the first time that this skill has been recognised on LinkedIn’s list. Such acknowledgement of the importance of creativity is encouraging to see, but this must also be reflected in our schools and in the way that we prepare students for their future careers.

There is a pressing need to equip young people with the skills they need for the coming creative economy: problem-solving, resilience, team-working, initiative, imagination and resourcefulness. These skills – which cannot be replicated by machines – are acquiring greater currency in our digital era.

Nesta: If you could snap your fingers and change one thing in the education sector what would it be?

Tristram: I would scrap GCSEs and move towards a 14-19 baccalaureate system. I would change the Ofsted inspection mechanism to ensure that no school could be rated ‘Outstanding’ unless it offered a rounded and fulfilling curriculum. I would change the reconfigure the Ebacc and Progress 8 accountability criteria. I do admit that is more than one!

Nesta: What do you think education in the UK will look like in 20 years time?

Tristram: With the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, there’s an exciting, but uncertain, economic future for young people, set out in an Industrial Strategy that describes the blurred lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.

As we hear of more employers eschewing exam grades as a priority when recruiting, and as the world’s most innovative companies increasingly rely on enterprising people who can combine specialist subject knowledge with skills from outside their specialisms, I believe that education will necessarily become more focused on the creative, digital, practical and personal skills which are all so essential in the 21st century. But that will take some long-term policy shifts.

Nesta: Lastly, could you tell us your favourite memory from your school life?

Tristram: An Industrial Revolution school trip to the IronBridge; glass-blowing in Stourbridge; and The Potteries.

Education should be more than academia and exam results. It should encompass the future skills that young people will actually need to be successful in the coming years. Young people will need to be resilient problem solvers, independent thinkers with a high level of emotional intelligence, adaptable collaborators. These skills and attributes should come alongside academic success, and should not be ignored by policy-makers, school leaders, teachers and parents.

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Ella Duffy

Ella Duffy

Ella Duffy

Intern, Education

Ella worked to support a number of projects within the education innovation team.

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