Learning at the heart of every school … but what to learn? That is the question.

The OECD published a report last week about leadership in schools across the world; entitled ‘Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century’, it had as its core intention an exploration of how headteachers and principals of schools are developed into effective leaders, and how, by sharing good practice, we can all learn from the best. The Report was particularly interesting, however – once you moved beyond the tables of comparisons (which, though interesting in themselves, sometimes distracted from the main messages) – in what it assumed about learning today:

‘… in a fast-changing world, producing more of the same education will not suffice to address the challenges of the future. Perhaps the most challenging dilemma for teachers today is that routine cognitive skills, the skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test, are also the skills that are easiest to digitize, automate and outsource. A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for a lifetime of their students. Today, where individuals can access content on Google, where routine cognitive skills are being digitized or outsourced, and where jobs are changing rapidly, education systems need to place much greater emphasis on enabling individuals to become lifelong learners, to manage complex ways of thinking and complex ways of working that computers cannot take over easily. Students need to be capable not only of constantly adapting but also of constantly learning and growing, of positioning themselves and repositioning themselves in a fast changing world.’

These messages have been growing in volume and intensity for a few years now, and are entirely convincing, and yet in school classrooms we often seem to bury our heads in the sand and keep on teaching in essentially the same way as children have been taught for the past century or so. The technology is innovative, and there is a far greater focus on skills than ever before, but the main pressures not to change come from the imposed need to conform to a knowledge-based examinations system which channels learning into specific boxes, and a national curriculum which is conceptualised around discrete ‘subjects’, taught by discrete specialists who – in the face of the inexorable drive towards national examination targets (now, of course, compared internationally) – have little time to collaborate, to question what their students are learning, and to find a way to connect it for them, to create the opportunities for higher level, joined up, synergistic and synoptic thinking that our world needs.

Too much time is wasted at school with pupils moving from classroom to classroom, readjusting their expectations of what will be required from the next – separate, un-joined-up – class. We need to think radically and fast about what we are doing in our schools, and this is a conversation which needs to happen both at national and international level, as well as in the heart and crucible of the action – our schools. Nothing will change unless we make it change, and we are going to have to be very, very bold if we are going to take a leap – together – into planning, through the education we provide, for a world where our children are ahead of the challenges they face, not struggling to adjust to them when they leave schools and universities.

One thing is clear – the status quo is not good enough. Let us press on with the conversation and drive for the future.

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