Innovation That Matters

From left on stage: James Bidwell (Springwise, Re_Set); Richard Pennycook (UK Department for Education); Ann Padley (University of Bristol Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship); Al McConville (Director of Learning and Innovation, Bedales Schools) and Liz Robinson (Big Education)

4 ways education can adapt to the pace of change


The current education system is out of date and needs to go beyond just measuring academic performance. What we learned at our latest Springwise Sessions.

The latest Springwise Sessions event — “The Future of Education: Is the system fit for purpose?” — took place on October 1st 2019 at The Club at The Ivy in London, and focused on how the education system can best prepare our children and young people to deal with what lies ahead.

To explore the issue in detail, we brought together a diverse panel of experts from the educational community for a stimulating discussion, led by James Bidwell (Chairman, Springwise and Co-Founder, Re_Set). Joining him were Liz Robinson (Co-Director, Big Education); Richard Pennycook (Lead non-executive board member, UK Department for Education); Al McConville (Director of Learning and Innovation, Bedales Schools) and Ann Padley (Senior Lecturer, the University of Bristol Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship). 

The five exchanged thoughts on the best ways forward to prepare children for the real world in front of a diverse group of business leaders and innovative thinkers. The audience was left with much to consider.

In order to equip students with the necessary skills to thrive in a hyper-connected, digital world, the UK education system must incur radical change. As part of this change, there is a clear role for the business community to be more involved with students more and from an earlier age.

“The wider system has changed, but I think it’s gone backwards,” Al says, referring to what he sees as too much emphasis on appraisal methods like traditional examinations. “Change is totally possible, but you must listen to the right voices about the sorts of changes that are needed.” 

For those unable to attend, we have put together four key takeaways from our discussion and what meaningful action could be taken. 

1. The purpose of education is evolving

“We live in a world where people will live to be over a hundred,” Richard says. Throughout this time they will “carry out multiple jobs and reinvent themselves”, but, “the system isn’t yet geared up for that,” he adds. 

The future is uncertain, which is why Ann also stresses the importance of an “interdisciplinary approach that brings multiple courses together.” With digital tools and a hyper-connected world, few are the jobs that are safe from changing in the next decade. 

Currently, young people are not best served by expensive degrees. “Students are completing three-year courses and coming out with unsustainable levels of debt,” says Richard.

However, Richard believes that “the pendulum is swinging in the right direction.” During his school visits, he continues to be impressed by the level of enthusiasm from the teaching community.

2. Disrupt the traditional examination system

Al explained how Bedales Schools introduced ‘Bedales Assessed Courses’ (BACs) in 2006 alongside GCSEs to reflect the school’s creative emphasis on the individual.

“We focus on developing things we think are really important, such as presentation, developing a portfolio, making things and teamwork,” which doesn’t prevent students from being accepted into good universities, says Al.

UK’s current educational system is out of date. We have to go beyond just measuring academic performance, “this is challenging because schools and headteachers are incentivized to maximize for exam results,” Liz comments. 

3. Prepare students for the climate crisis

Liz spoke of how the pedagogical practices of teachers are changing to balance the curriculum with pressing issues such as global warming. She emphasised that it is not about what is taught, but rather how it is taught, as “learning starts from real problems, genuinely doing something that can make a difference in the world.” 

As an example, Al spoke about High Tech High, which operates sixteen schools in San Diego County. All of these schools embody the High Tech High design principles of Equity, Personalization, Authentic Work, and Collaborative Design.

“Students carry out internships from an early age,” Al comments, “while they do sit tests, they need not prepare for them because throughout the year students carry out real-world based learning.” 

Teachers should encourage students to be, “active agents rather than remain in passive roles,” says Liz, with the point being that education must be student-centric. James also emphasized the importance of preparing the next generation for the ongoing climate crisis.

4. Employers must engage with educators

There’s no easy way to attain the change needed within the educational system, but there is a clear role for the business and working community to be involved with students more and from an earlier age to help create a platform for life-long learning.

The UK Department of Education is working hard to create a programme for employers to link up with academic institutions, says Richard.

Ann spoke about how at Bristol University, greatest learning results from the modules focused on project-based learning in which students directly engage with client and briefs.

James adds that, from his work at Re_Set, he has found the perspective of many students to be remarkably insightful and that encouraging collaboration also creates great value for businesses.

“This is a complex issue and we have only scratched the surface today,” says James. “The context of the rapid pace of change and the advent of the 100-year life means we need to move fast to ensure resilience and success in the future.”

The enthusiasm and inspiring thinking from our panellists are really encouraging. After all, education is one of the most important levers we can turn to create a more equitable and purposeful society,” James concludes.

Written by: Katrina Lane