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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Facing a future that is unpredictable, we can’t know precisely what competencies future generations will need. But we do know that they will experience an era characterised by climate crisis, economic volatility and the encroachment of automation into many sectors. These challenges should refocus attention towards the specifically human capabilities that young people will need to thrive: creativity, collaboration, resilience and problem-solving. 

Our curriculum and assessment systems are not being optimised to foster these competencies; in some cases they actively hinder young people. The UK has been left locked into an overly politicised debate pitting “knowledge" against “skills”; a zero-sum game which serves neither young people nor employers.

I propose creating an independent Future Skills Committee (FSC), which would report the latest evidence-informed projections to parliament—much as the Office for Budget Responsibility does for the economy. 

The FSC would serve as a central authority on long-term strategy, creating deeply informed scenarios which other actors could draw on to shape educational provision for all ages. It would engage education experts, be guided by the excellent data available on high-achieving educational systems worldwide while also drawing on the experience of teachers and students to ensure pragmatism in place of ideology. It would be focused on the UK’s chronic productivity problem but also the deep societal need to foster good citizenship, which is the basis of social cohesion. 

We know that future generations will experience an era characterised by climate crisis, economic volatility and the encroachment of automation into many sectors.

This is not to pretend that anticipating (or even tracking) our skills needs is simple; we can’t manage out uncertainty. But the FSC could lead the way in developing novel modes of measurement and a shared language. It would draw on leading frameworks on foundational competencies (such as the OECD’s Future of Education and Skills 2030 initiative) and from the knowledge infrastructure in other countries (eg the Canadian Labour Market Information Council) as well as its own emerging data sets. Sophisticated quantitative models would enable us to develop scenarios exploring how sectors are impacted by automation and other global trends. 

In the UK, spending on education in real terms has declined since 2010. The FSC would not only work to ensure that curriculum is relevant to a changing world but also that funding matches the size of the challenge before us. Our future productivity as a nation rests on getting this right.

This article was originally published as part of Minister for the Future in partnership with Prospect. Illustrations by Ian Morris. You can read the original feature on the Prospect website.