Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

2020 Future: Learning social awareness


In ASCL's ongoing research project, Robert Hill looks this month at the changes in society which will have an impact on school and college leaders of the future.

Over the next ten years, society faces a number of big challenges.

A changing sense of identity.Although there is still a strong sense of belonging in Britain, people's sense of identity is becoming more complex. People are increasingly defining themselves by their faith or where they live as well as by a sense of nationhood.

Continuing and potentially deepening inequality. Inequality rose dramatically in the Thatcher era, peaking in early 1990s, stabilised and reduced slightly in the early years of the Blair government but has risen slightly more recently. It will take a heroic effort to deliver the government's target of eliminating child poverty by 2020.

Challenges to cohesion. Although affluent and poor may live in the same town, they lead very separate lives. Nearly half of all social housing is now located in the fifth of neighbourhoods with the highest levels of deprivation. A lack of social cohesion will make the transition to a more ethnically diverse society much harder.

Greater transparency. Society is becoming less deferential. Although trust in headteachers and doctors remains high, trust in politicians and institutions of the state is low. There is impatience and intolerance with those who try to cover up or are slow to yield up information - as MPs have found to their cost over their expenses. One symptom of this is the rising tide of disclosure requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Increased assertion of rights. Laws that penalise unfair dismissal, promote equal pay and outlaw discrimination on the basis of age, sex, disability and race have opened up access to tribunals and courts. The impact of the Human Rights Act is reaching into more areas of life and business.

The continued growth of social networking. Online communities are providing new ways for communities and individuals to support themselves - as Freecycle, Timebank and Vinspired (an online clearing house providing volunteering and work placement opportunities for young people aged 16-25) are showing.

A more plural politics. The internet provides a more open means for people to hear news and opinions without it being filtered by newspapers. Blogs and Twitter enable politicians to talk with the electorate on a real time basis. E-petitions and texting provide new means for communities to mobilise opinion and action. What is happening online will hasten the process of opening up politics in the real world.


School and college leaders will need to start thinking about developing parent voice in the same way they encouraged student voice, if they are to manage these changes with parents as allies rather than as constant challengers.

They can also help young people to prepare for this changing society by making citizenship not just another subject in the curriculum but an essential part of how their institution acts and works.

School leaders can support student-led activities and active citizenship within and beyond the school. They can encourage discussion and debate, including challenges to the status quo, and foster the characteristics of a democratic school.

There are issues to be addressed about schools' admissions so that they promote cohesion rather than reinforce existing barriers in society. Partnership working between schools on both the curriculum and extra curricula activities can help to break down divisions between different social groups and cultures.

To read the full briefing paper about the impact of a changing society, as well as briefing papers on other topics in the 2020 Future research project, go to www.ascl.org.uk

Robert Hill is an ASCL consultant. All these issues and many more are explored in The impact of brain science on education - the latest in the series of ASCL 2020 Futures briefings at www.ascl.org.uk

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