Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Tomorrow's people

In an age when even specialised jobs are disappearing abroad, thanks to technology and cheaper labour, creativity is the key skill of the future and the one that schools should be nurturing, says Brian Lightman.

Although more than 5,000 miles away from England, in San Antonio, Texas the 3,000 delegates at the annual conference of the National Association of Secondary School Principals in February discussed a remarkably familiar agenda. Topics included:

  • the damaging effects of a high-stakes accountability and testing regime

  • the challenge of engaging parents

  • compensating for the effects of child poverty and deprivation

  • the challenges facing our education service in the 21st century

All of these featured strongly in our own annual conference ten days later.

In the same way as Professor Guy Claxton and Matthew Taylor of the Royal Society for the Arts looked to the future at our conference, the Americans focused strongly on the ways in which people learn, developments in neuroscience and the growing body of knowledge about the teenage brain. This has powerful implications for the way we manage the classroom and interact with young people, particularly with some of the most challenging behaviour.

One of the keynote speakers, Daniel Pink, spoke eloquently about the skills employers need in the 21st century and developed the premise that 'we need to prepare kids for their future not our past'. He argued that the emphasis on logical, linear and rational thinking that has traditionally characterised our curriculum is no longer enough. Instead, employers need 'right brain thinking' which enables employees to do lots of tasks at same time, process context rather than text and synthesise rather than analyse.

The biggest priority for us, he argued, should be to develop creativity in our learners - the ability to find and even invent solutions for problems that we have not yet identified.

He cited three reasons why this is necessary:

1. Abundance Society today is enormously wealthy. One mobile phone has more computing power than existed in the entire world 20 years ago and we possess more luxuries than would have been imaginable in our grandparents' youth. Businesses have to satisfy unmet needs by giving people things they didn't know they were missing. In our 'iPod culture', businesses therefore compete on aesthetics, especially through designer items. Even the most unlikely companies are recruiting at art and design colleges.

2. Asia This is a continent where people in all types of jobs earn a third of the amount they would earn in the US or Europe. Routine work is leaving the UK for places like India and this includes many of the careers, such as accounting and law, which our parents encouraged us to do.

3. Automation Software is replacing our brains - but not the creative, artistic part. White-collar functions based on logic are being taken over by computers. An example is websites which process uncontested divorces for one tenth of the price a lawyer would charge. He left us with three questions which should be central to our discussions about the shape of our education service:

  • Can someone overseas do it cheaper?

  • Can a computer do it faster?

  • Is what you are delivering in demand in an age of abundance?

As we were discussing the diplomas at length during the ASCL conference I was reminded of a statement by diploma champion Professor Deian Hopkin, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, that the diplomas are about creating "a different kind of learner".

As we grapple with the challenges of planning and implementation described in ASCL's recently published diploma policy paper, Daniel Pink's presentation gave a timely reminder of why this huge leadership challenge is so important to ASCL members.

Brian Lightman

© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders