Forwarding to the future in education

I was delighted to be invited to the inaugural Future Fwd conference in Warwick at the beginning of July – 2 days of in-depth reflection on what is really needed in education, with strands led by innovative thinkers in tech and gaming, business, the creative arts, curriculum and entrepreneurship. The conference – a collaboration between Warwick Schools Foundation and the University of Warwick, with a number of other great supporters – combined opportunities to learn about what was happening in a range of fields, as well as to meet, converse and share ideas with various movers and shakers in the realm of education and beyond.

What emerged was different for everyone, I am sure, although we will be able to read more about the collective findings in due course, as a white paper is due to emerge from the discussions in the round table sessions on the second day. For me, it prompted (and cemented) various thoughts about the way in which I think we might, as a society, have become so fixated on the pre-eminence of consistency in educational processes such as curriculum, examinations etc, that we have in many cases relegated individual, creative, ‘out of the box’, pioneering thinking to the sidelines. I know there are many amazing examples of creativity and entrepreneurship happening in schools, and I certainly don’t want to dismiss these in any way, because they are wonderful to see; when we step back from our entire educational system, however, who amongst us can genuinely say that it does all it could do for the individuals who are supposed to be nurtured and developed by it?

This is not the fault of teachers – great teachers on the whole, in my experience, love to think creatively, and certainly are driven by wanting to respond to the needs of the child in front of them. Too often – almost always! – however, they cannot do this because of the constraints under which they are placed, including limitations of time, resource and expectations of performance. Not only teachers, in fact, but school leaders too; the pressures of school performance and the expectations of external bodies are immense. Inspections of schools, for example, are more rigorous and, in many ways, narrower than ever before. We live in a society where soundbites rule, and where the word ‘failure’, or ‘standard not met’ is seen as a condemnation, rather than as an invitation to grow and improve.

Consistency is not a bad thing per se, and it underpins equality of opportunity … when this consistency drives towards the lowest common denominator, however, and requires vast amounts of precious time in order to deliver it, it is of little surprise that the offering to our children is sparser than they really deserve. Our educational – and social – ecosystem is so immensely complex, as indeed are our children and young people, that our drive for consistency (despite its positive intentions) is perhaps not serving any of as well as it could be. How do we achieve equity in educational opportunity rather than consistency? What could or should that look like?      

Fundamentally, the Future Fwd conference was a call to action – and this starts with deeper questions. I don’t know the answers – I don’t yet know all the questions, in fact; I do, know, though, that our children and young people deserve an amazing education that empowers and enables them, because this is how they will lead fulfilling lives, and how they will contribute to making the world a better place.

How do YOU think we should do this …?

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