Outline principles for the future of education

by Cambridge Assessment, 19 February 2021
diagram listing the twelve outline principles for the future of education
  • "We don’t need schools anymore." (1)
  • "We need to ‘scrap’ the national curriculum." (2)
  • "Textbooks are ‘a thing of the past’." (3)
  • "GCSEs serve no good purpose in the 21st century". (4)

A lot has changed over the past year. The effect of Covid-19 has been seismic for individuals, firms and countries around the globe. But as we enter 2021, we have hope that mass vaccination will arrest the rate of infection and save a great many lives. 

Yet we may only just be starting to feel some of the shockwaves created by the disease. While crises can create positive opportunities for change, their reverberations can damage well set foundations. This is our worry for education here in the UK and around the globe. 

18-02-21 - principles blog 1 - image

Few aspects of the current education and assessment landscape have escaped attention. Some commentators with long-held concerns have taken the opportunity to reaffirm their views. Others have been more opportunistic, shouting loudest at a time when answers to important questions are being sought, sometimes without facts to back up their assertions. Learners, their parents and teachers are being regularly presented with ideas about what should change in education, while also having to navigate every day a great many challenges at the front line of our educational response to this pandemic. They have responded in a herculean way through the period of school closures, and rightly deserve the opportunity to contribute their thoughts and experiences about the future of education based on evidence and sound discussion.

Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press have been long-term participants in such debates, reflecting our mission, to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. We have reflected on the events of 2020 and early 2021, and developed a set of outline principles that we believe will help all those that are interested to continue the debate around teaching, learning and assessment. 

Importantly, it is often not possible to discuss one aspect of an education system without considering the potential implications for other parts. We need a way of navigating these debates, so we have taken a set of outline principles and quite literally joined-the-dots (see the diagram above for the outline principles for the future of education). We will use this approach to help focus and refine our thinking and call out challenges where we see them.

As part of our effort, we will be producing a series of blogs over coming weeks through which we will dissect the importance of textbooks and other learning materials, the curriculum and assessment, as well as approaches to learning and schools themselves. We will look at the available evidence to form a diagnosis in each area, before presenting some of our own thoughts in line with our principles. But we are equally keen to hear from others. We will, therefore, be hosting a series of live online monthly debates over the course of this year through our SHAPE initiative. Each session will take one or more of our principles as a starting point and we’ll summarise the discussion following each event. 

The first SHAPE Live, will be held online at 12:00 GMT on 9 March 2021, asking the question 'How can we create real learning with technology?'.

We hope you will take the opportunity to engage with us, and in doing so, help reaffirm foundations where appropriate, or establish the grounds for new approaches that can stand the test of time.  

Outline principles for the future of teaching, learning and assessment:

  1. Early literacy and numeracy are vital foundations for broad and balanced learning.
  2. Curriculum coherence – the alignment of curriculum content and standards, teaching practices, learning resources and assessment – remains fundamental to high equity and high attainment for all learners.
  3. Curriculum and its assessment, and all other requirements, should be a manageable load for all teachers.
  4. Effective learning should be built on variety, using a well-managed mix of adaptable approaches and modes.
  5. Excellence in teaching and elevated attainment can be supported by well-designed and carefully-chosen technology that can support teaching and attainment.
  6. Well-trained and well-supported teachers are central to high quality pedagogy, high attainment and the well-being of learners.
  7. Evidence and cognitive science should inform teacher practices.
  8. Access to high quality teaching and learning materials is essential for high quality, manageable education at all ages.
  9. Dependable assessment is vital for social justice, learning support and equitable progression.
  10. Clear standards are important for equity, accessibility and progression for all learners.
  11. Equity and high attainment can be achieved hand in hand.
  12. First and second language skills are essential for all learners, including English as the language of international communication.

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