Major rethink needed on education – report

One of the leading voices on education over the past three decades has called for some radical thinking in a new report.

Kenneth Baker was Secretary of State for Education in the Thatcher government. His reforms caused controversy at the time, and now, in his capacity as chair of the Edge Foundation, Lord Baker returns with a call to shake up the way the UK educates and trains its young people.

The Digital Revolution was compiled in response to the Bank of England’s recent prediction that up to 15 million jobs in the UK were at threat of disappearing thanks to automation.

Published today, it highlights the changes being brought about in the UK through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is characterized by developments including the rise of the robotic economy, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and more flexible working practices.


Rapid change continues

‘The economy is changing at an unprecedented pace,” says Baker in the report. “Every day, jobs are being lost in professions we used to regard as careers for life. Artificial intelligence, robots, 3D printing and driverless vehicles will impact on sectors as varied as the legal profession, transport and construction.

‘The UK’s future workforce will need technical expertise in areas such as design and computing, plus skills which robots cannot replace – flexibility, empathy, creativity and enterprise.

‘Right now, this thinking is almost entirely absent from the core curriculum in mainstream schools.

‘In the Digital Revolution, knowledge is as necessary as ever, but it is not enough. It has to be connected with the real world through practical applications ranging from engineering and IT to the performing, creative and culinary arts.

‘We should not go back to a 19th century diet of academic subjects for all. We need 21st century education for a 21st century economy.’


More support for technical training needed

The report is particularly supportive of the development of the University Technical College (UTC) movement, citing the possibilities for equipping young people with real, useful skills for the new economy. In addition, it suggests students should be able to take computer science instead of a language at GCSE and schools should offer a ‘technical stream’ for 14-18 year olds

“UTC students leave with qualifications and go on to apprenticeships, further and higher education and careers,” the report states. “Our ambition is that no UTC student joins 
the NEET register when they leave – not in education, employment or training. Our target is 100%. In July 2015 we had 2,000 leavers: at 16, 99.5% stayed in education, started an apprenticeship or got a job, and at 18, 97% went into further learning or work.”

The key points of the new study include:

  1. Primary schools should bring in outside experts to teach coding
  2. All primaries should have 3D printers and design software
  3. Secondary schools should be able to teach Computer Science, Design and Technology or another technical/practical subject in place of a foreign language GCSE
  4. The Computer Science GCSE should be taken by at least half of all 16 year olds
  5. Young apprenticeships should be reintroduced at 14, blending a core academic curriculum with hands-on learning
  6. All students should learn how businesses work, with schools linked to local employers
  7. Schools should be encouraged to develop a technical stream from 14-18 for some students, covering enterprise, health, design and hands-on skills.
  8. Universities should provide part-time courses for apprentices to get Foundation and Honours degrees.