The Headteacher: Preparing students for a world of change

Gavin Chappell is the headteacher of The Market Weighton School
Gavin Chappell is the headteacher of The Market Weighton School

Last weekend I was fortunate to spend time beneath Oxford’s “dreaming spires”.

Too bad, therefore, that I spent most of my stay in this historic seat of learning in a branch of a ubiquitous modern pub chain watching football and subsequently in a Victorian prison cell.

The football in question was the FA cup final and I was watching with some old friends as one of our number had finally met someone who’d willingly agreed to marry him.

The best man to be is an Aston Villa fan and thus the day was always heading this way. More interesting than the football match however, was the fact that my friend had met his match via an online dating agency.

This made me a) feel old - the Web wasn’t a twinkle in Berners-Lee’s eye when I last ‘dated’- b) realise how many relationships now start online.

That we live in a period of technological change is self-evident to anyone who can remember when we didn’t need the word ‘landline’.

The significance of such change was summarised in a YouTube upload, ‘Shift Happens’, which advises that we are educating students to gain employment in jobs not yet created, where they will use technology not yet invented in order to solve problems that do not yet exist.

A quick glance at the jobs pages reveals a plethora of occupations that did not exist at the turn of the century: ecommerce marketing manager; web developer; knowledge manager; data analyst; app developer; search engine optimisation leader; cyber threat intelligence officer; forensic data analyst; mobile full stack developer (answers in an email please); and so forth.

This gives rise to an important conundrum for those involved in designing curricula for our children to follow.

How best can we prepare our students for their future employability in a fast paced, globalised world when we do not yet know the specific skills that they will need.

In part this is about teaching transferable skills. For example, the ability to effectively communicate our ideas is something we can deploy in all jobs.

At TMWS we seek to develop our students’ employability skills across all subject areas; these are based upon a recent Confederation of British Industry publication which identified key characteristics that are useful to employment in any occupation.

We regularly report five of these to students and parents: completing work to a high personal standard; politeness; participation within lessons; working with others; avoiding distractions.

The need is to develop lifelong learners with the capacity to adapt, to recognise that learning is not confined to the classroom.

The extent to which we can draw upon our experience in order to solve problems is important for our ability to thrive in a changing labour market.

Underpinning all this is an emphasis upon literacy and numeracy as these are the ultimate facilitators in accessing all careers.

If, as a headteacher, I didn’t recognise that you’d probably think I deserved to be locked up.

Which, incidentally, is not how I ended up in a cell. It was a voluntary incarceration, the prison has been turned into an unusual hotel.