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Preparing for a Tricky World

This is a guest blog post written by Iain Erskine, Head of The Fulbridge Academy in Peterborough.

What is the purpose of Education in a modern and ever-changing world?

As a child of the ’60s, I  grew up in simpler world than the one my children have grown up in, and their children will grow up in. Despite this almost unrecognisable world I now live in, the curriculum our education system currently delivers is worryingly similar to the one I received. In fact, it isn’t too far removed from the one my father and grandfather received.

The educational world needs to change. Our challenge is to develop the world of education; not just to keep up with the world, but to be a step ahead. We need to prepare our students for a world that doesn’t exist yet.

The Fulbridge Academy is a Cambridge Primary Trust Alliance School as well as a Whole Education Pathfinder and Partner school, and, as a result, we enjoy the benefits of the wonderful research and insights that both these prestigious networks produce.

We have recently been invited by Mick Waters to join him and Guy Claxton, along with other interested educationalists, to assist in research they are undertaking entitled ‘Character Trait Development’. Being involved in this process has caused me to consider a number of questions; primarily, how do we prepare our children for an ever-changing world?

I stumbled upon a great fact recently: our knowledge of the potential of technology is increasing so quickly that if you enrolled in a four-year technology degree right now, 50% of what you learn this year will be outdated by the time you reach third year.

I work in a primary school; the children I teach have at least seven years before they enter the world of work. How much of what we teach them now will be outdated by then?

What do children really need to learn?

In preparation for researching Character Trait Development I read ‘Educating Ruby’ by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas. They question what is more important for children to learn: traditional knowledge-based subject matter, or how to develop character skills that will enable learning.

The answer, of course, is a balanced curriculum, one which is relevant to the world our children are growing up in.

Our current education system is not the answer. Whilst Our Curriculum Hasn't Changed Since Victorian Timesthere is, of course, value in teaching knowledge-based subject matter, when we don’t know what we are preparing our students for, we must teach them the skills they will need to adapt and learn.

We currently approach learning in a very old-fashioned way, built around paper-based testing and subject areas that haven’t changed since Victorian times. Our entire education system is based around preparing children for university, when, realistically, the majority of them will never go there.

Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas promote a ‘Building Learning Power’ (BLP) approach based around the need to be confident, committed, curious, and creative, as well as having the ability to collaborate, communicate, and have craftsmanship.

To survive in business and further education, learners need to be able to take risks and accept failure – two things that our current school system and the National Curriculum do not prioritise.  Young people need knowledge, but they also need the habits of mind that will allow them to become adaptive, responsive, and caring people.  A child’s most powerful learning tools are questioning and thinking, not memorising and regurgitating; and yet, our current system promotes the latter.

Pasi Sahlberg from Finland says that, in Britain, we are trying to improve by attempting to do the wrong things righter. Unfortunately, this is typified in terms of how the educational world is monitored; our system has been very top-down, judgemental, and punitive.

What should we be striving to achieve?

When our children leave the education system, they should be able to “retrieve information, draw conclusions, synthesise information, evaluate and form judgements, empathise, be creative, persist when times are hard, think for themselves, acquire knowledge, learn independently, be competitive, [and] criticise constructively,” and so take responsibility for their learning and their life.

[The world needs] children who observe and notice things, are curious, collaborate, record observations, reason and draw conclusions, communicate their findings and feelings, and love learning. We all want to strengthen children’s dispositions to learn in disciplined ways.

Does our current educational system and curriculum really only prioritise teaching children how to communicate in writing and numbers? Surely it must also teach them to express themselves orally, physically, emotionally, and by using digital media both safely and effectively? Are the arts, creativity, and innovation being neglected in a country that is renowned for its art, drama, dance, music, and inventions that have changed the world?

Do our children, when they leave school, understand and have a view about important issues, like what it takes to save the planet and how to run household finances; do they know what is needed to be healthy in body and mind?

How do we judge whether we are giving our children a truly effective education and preparing them for further education and the job market?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Is effort more important than ability?
  • Are we creating children who are determined, gritty, resilient, tenacious; children who demonstrate self-control and are curious?
  • Are we prioritising the essential skills of solving problems, co-operation, collaboration, and analysis?
  • Do our children have optimism, enthusiasm, zest, gratitude, confidence, ambition, and creativity?
  • Are our young learners emotionally intelligent?
  • Do these adults of the future understand the importance of punctuality, time management, and good attendance; can they cope with change?
  • Do our graduates have sensitivity to global concerns, know what they can do to take better care of our planet, and understand social justice and good citizenship?

We need to get the content of our curriculum right for children who are growing up in the 21st century. We don’t live in a Victorian industrial world, in a wartime Britain, or in the swinging ’60s; we have developed, learned new things. We have adapted. And it is time for our curriculum to adapt accordingly.

To put it simply, we want our current educational system to create “children who walk through life noticing what is new, different or interesting,” and then wanting to find out more about it and make a difference.


Iain has also written about why The Fulbridge Academy chose a creative curriculum. Give it a read here.