But do we really cut the mustard on the world stage?
As part of its education feature, Business Leader Magazine met with Tony Wilson, the Principal of the new North Somerset Enterprise and Technology College (NSETC) that will be built in Weston-super-Mare, to discuss the future of education.
Tony joined the college after spending four years in the Kingdom of Bahrain – working for an organisation that advised the government on education policy.
Critical time in the Gulf
It was a critical time in the Gulf region as petro-carbons – a major driver for the economy – were running out, and Tony was tasked with looking at ways of re-invigorating education and ensuring the students of Bahrain are fit for purpose in a changing world.
It was an ideal pre-cursor to his new role, as he looks to bridge the gap between business and education and oversee a new model of learning that puts entrepreneurship and global thinking at its heart; all in a time of fierce education reform and soul searching on a national level about education provision in the UK.
The college will open in September 2014, to a year 12 intake of 200 students; and in September 2015 it will open to a cohort of 100 Year 10 students as well as a new group of Year 12 learners.
Tony explains in more detail what will make the college unique: “NSETC will have a Science, Technology, English and Maths (STEM) focus and pupils who leave here will have not only excellent qualifications, but attributes and skills they can apply in this new global economic context and tough business environment.
“NSETC will have a broad curriculum and pupils will be able to study A-Levels in addition to vocational BTECS. Eventually, there will also be the option to study the International Baccalaureate Level 3 at the same time as A Levels.
“There will be a major focus on employability, with every student having a relevant work placement integrated as part of their study; as well as links with a mentor from an influential business or organisation.
“Our commitment here is that employers will be involved in the delivery of education – they have fed back to us what skills and attributes they want their future employees to have and we will be able to meet these requirements.”
Strong international focus
Tony says that NSETC will also have a strong international focus.
He comments: “Over time we will look to establish links with the Middle East, China and the rest of the developing world. There is much dialogue surrounding the BRIC countries but we will be focusing on the MINT countries as well – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.”
Many education pundits agree that thinking globally will be important to the future of education, and so will skilling up for the jobs market of twenty to forty years, according to Tony.
“We need to be thinking twenty years ahead and looking to prepare people for the jobs that haven’t been created yet. We need to be developing the transferable skills and attributes not just for now but for the next few decades.
“Education should be aligning itself with this future demand. The education sector also needs to ensure it is relevant to the workplace and that innovation, risk-taking and creativity are part of this mix.”
Change not happenign fast enough
For Dr John Newton, who is Headmaster and CEO of Taunton School, education isn’t changing fast enough to cope with the economic demands of the future.
He comments: “We are often stuck in a conversation with ourselves in the UK; and we are forever debating things that suit us – whether we like league tables or not, how much we should pay our teachers what should be in our curriculum.
“Education will need to change because we are seeing more ambitious families, in developing economies, scrimping and saving to put their children through schools and get an excellent education.
“They are putting everything on the line to get their kids on the first or second rung of the ladder and they are going to be mighty powerful competitors; and we’re not ready for it.
“We say rule Britannia rules the waves, but it doesn’t ring true anymore – it doesn’t compute anymore. The challenge is to equip our children to work across cultures.”
And according to John, success in the global race may mean relying less heavily on the service sector in the UK.
“We have a financial sector in London that is so free and so effective that it keeps our economy going.
“We couldn’t live without it as it brings in foreign capital, investment and great minds. But do we really cut the mustard on the world stage? I think decreasingly – not increasingly.
“With this in mind, the job of this school is to be globally minded and ready for this very raw and bare knuckle world our pupils will be entering.”
And like Tony’s vision for NSETC, Dr Newton believes entrepreneurship and communication need to be vital cogs in a good education.
Entrepreneurship in education
“We need to educate our children on how to win people over and sell their ideas.
“Public speaking is crucial to this; every week here at Taunton School there is public speaking and drama – and it’s not about reading a script but having an impact on an audience.
“We need to train our young people to have conviction in their ideas, and the impact they’ll require to win contracts, arguments and gain the resources they need.
“Education is also about transforming lives. If it doesn’t take you to a completely new place it hasn’t done its job. It must lead you to something higher than you are.
“And education must address all parts of your life – not just your brain, but your body and your soul as well. A good education is about creating bodies that last and allowing for a cultural appreciation of the finer things in life.”
David Alder, Communications Manager at Bristol University concludes by saying what makes a good university education.
He comments: “If you take a university like Bristol as an example, then it is a combination of bringing together very high achieving students and providing them with intellectual challenge and robust teaching methods in a research-rich learning environment.
“You then add the massive array of extra curricular activities that our students typically get involved in and you have a spectacularly exciting and effective all round experience that sets people on an amazing trajectory for life.”