Skills for the future

A relative quiet has fallen on the High School over the last week, as Years 11 and 13 are sitting their public exams and Years 10 and 12 are in the midst of their summer assessments.

Summer assessments are a fixture of the educational calendar in the UK and have been since the nineteenth century. Much has changed since the introduction of the first public school exams in 1858 and our girls are unlikely to be asked to list in order the wives and children of Henry VIII or to state the “three ways [in which] our Lord [was] tempted in the wilderness”. I understand that these days – in Geography – there is even remarkably little need for colouring pens. But in some ways the system has proved remarkably resilient and our students’ experience today will look and feel much like that of these boys in 1940 Queensland (image courtesy of State Library of Queensland).

The High School’s students have been, and are, working hard. These exams matter, the girls know it and they have been preparing diligently for them. Over the years, we have all read pieces that tell us that exams aren’t fit for purpose and don’t help students prepare for the future. I always feel that this is a somewhat disheartening message for our young people to hear, even if it is well-intentioned (high-stakes exams are too pressurised, etc.). But, despite the drawbacks of the current system, are our students being prepared well? One way to approach the question is through the lens of the skills that employers think will be needed in the future. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report (PDF) is a useful piece of research to consider.

According to the WEF’s 2023 report, the two most important skills for employees to develop and evidence are analytical thinking and creative thinking. Both the GCSE and A Level curriculums naturally demand students hone their analytical thinking skills, while creative thinking must be showcased not only in the more obviously creative subjects, such as Drama or Textiles, but also in Biology or History, where the ability to make insightful inferences and links between topics requires a creative mental agility. These two cognitive skills are joined by three sets of “self-efficacy” skills: resilience, flexibility & agility; motivation & self-awareness; and curiosity & lifelong learning. In all three cases, it seems clear to me that successfully studying for and being examined across multiple subjects lends itself to the development of such personal skills.

But when we look at the wider skillset that employers deem crucial, it’s noticeable how important our school’s wider, expanded curriculum is. For employers, technological literacy ranks sixth, followed by dependability & attention to detail, empathy & active listening, and leadership & social influence. Undoubtedly, some of these skills are learned through the core curriculum, but even more so through the wider opportunities offered by the High School. For example, girls in all year groups demonstrate and develop leadership and active listening, whether they are part of the Student Senior Leadership Team or a form group’s Student Council Representative, a sports leader or a performer in the school’s musical.

The summer exams matter and I wish our girls all the very best over the coming weeks. At least as important as the results, however, are the skills that they have developed at school throughout their educational journey. To the Year 13 students who are leaving us at the end of this term: you are ready for the future and we can’t wait to hear about your next steps.

Mr Viesel
Director of Sixth Form