Why is change needed?

We believe that the current UK education system is preparing students for the 20th century, not the 21st.


We need to be radical because we face radical challenges in the world. 

The global workforce is increasingly mobile and children in school today will need to compete against people from all over the world to find work. 

Industries are converging and these same children will need to have a much wider range of skills than even is required today. 

Wilder forces – climate change approaching a ‘tipping point’, population growth and severe water shortages – may significantly alter a world which has already changed remarkably from even twenty years ago.

Unprecedented progress in communications and technology has made a decisive break with the last century. This has huge implications for teaching and learning.

Successful organisations are agile, flexible and resilient and will demand enterprise, innovation and risk-management to be wired into our young work force. 

We need to respond today. Because today matters.



Systemic Change

A fundamental re-imagining of the system is required. A re-imagining of the curriculum, the teaching methods and the very institutions that exist to educate our children today. 

In 2012, the 21 trust opened School 21, an outstanding free school in East London with a commitment to doing things differently.

Having witnessed the transformational impact the School 21 is having on its students, the trust aims to share this innovative approach to education with a wider audience in order to build momentum around the need to rethink the current education system. 


The educational journey

Imagine you’re four. Your first day at primary school marks your entry into an education system you won’t leave for the next fourteen years. What do you need to be warned about?

Transition at 11

The move from primary to secondary school is highly disruptive for most children, generating the 'secondary slump' - the drop in attainment over the first two years of key-stage 3.

The division between the two phases is a result of the way our education system was constructed historically, and would not be designed into it today. We should work on designing it out.

Limited choice at 14

Children effectively specialise when aged thirteen or fourteen they choose which subjects to study for GCSE.

Foreign languages, separate study of the sciences, and the humanities suffer as students clump subjects around their apparent strengths.

The biggest losers are practical ‘vocational’ subjects, to which a stigma is still attached and which are not perceived to lead to serious or prestigious qualifications.

Assessment rewards a narrow range of skills

Exams are powerful and bend the whole system to their image. But no national exam rewards spoken language, creativity, use of technology or vocational skills to the extent to which our country needs them.

The influence of higher education is misunderstood

The entry requirements of universities determine assessment all the way back along the different stages of education.

Students who want to go to university need to get good A-levels, and so study a certain mixture of GCSEs.

Schools know it would be irresponsible to pursue any course of study which did not result in students gaining this accreditation, even if it would have greater educational value.

Students are discouraged from taking risks, following their passions and aspiring to be different.



School 21: for success in the twenty-first century

Voice 21: direct teaching and assessment for spoken language


More from outside:

Primary to secondary transition and the secondary slump: a great article from the TES

A DfE-comissioned report using behavioural economics to analyse subject choice at 14

GCSEs and univeristy admissions: some questions answered by Which?