St Peter's School

30 January 2020

After the hiatus of trial examinations, this is my first opportunity to reflect not just on the start of a new term and new year but also a new decade.  A lot has certainly happened in the past few weeks with a new government are settling into office and Boris Johnson already meeting his first major challenges with decisions on whether to allow Huawei to be involved in the UK’s 5G network and whether to permit the building of HS2 who is costs have spiralled from £30 billion to £110 billion in the last five years. It certainly puts the debates on Twitter about a commemorative Brexit 50p or whether Big Ben should ring at 11pm on Friday evening into context.  Her Majesty the Queen has not had a particularly easy time either following the ructions over Prince Andrew’s interview last year and Harry and Meghan‘s decision is to cease royal duties or abdicate as some of the tabloids have chosen to describe the situation.

At the start of a new decade it is interesting to reflect on where you were at the beginning of the last one. The youngest of you would have been three and the oldest just eight years old. What a difference a decade can make and if you think that is a sobering thought, consider how it must make me and my colleagues feel when we think of ourselves 10 years younger than we are today.

So what about the next 10 years and where you see yourselves at the end of this decade? The youngest will have left university or whatever pathway you choose after A-Levels and the oldest will be in their late 20s. Hopefully with careers solidly underway and I suspect that the first marriages will have taken place and some of you may well even be parents. I leave you to decide amongst yourselves who you think maybe the first in that particular category.

At least you can be confident of being in the prime of your life. In 10 years' I will be 56 and no doubt beginning to make plans either for some form of phased retirement or embarking on a whole new phase and adventure in life. One thing I don’t plan on is slowing down or settling down as the older I get, the more experiences and opportunities I find myself wanting to have.

But let us turn back to you and what may lie in store. I think it is a very safe bet to say that action on climate change will be a significant feature of the next 10 years. The global economy and geopolitics is unlikely to stabilise greatly and it will be fascinating to see where the significant power bases will live. What future might there be for the three significant powers of the United States, China and Russia? What about the emerging economies and how will technology continue to accelerate, alter and augment our lives? Who will be the new media superstars as the current crop inevitably fade?

People are very fond of saying that your generation will go on to do jobs which don’t even exist yet. I think that is true although not exactly original. My sense is that, ever since the industrial revolution, no society has been able to predict what the future will look like in 30 years.

Perhaps the more relevant question is what you will need to enable you to face that brave new world with confidence and the ability to seize opportunities while making a positive difference for yourselves, your communities and the world at large.

The World Economic Forum is currently meeting in the resort of Davos in Switzerland.  As you will know, this is an annual gathering of global business and political leaders and every year they seek to set the pace and spot the trends for the years ahead.

In 2018 they published a fascinating document called the Future of Jobs Report which brought together a huge set of data and research to identify the emerging needs of the economy.

There is no doubt that technology is going to have a significant impact and this will lead to the reduction of some tasks currently performed by humans which can be done more effectively and efficiently by tech, AI and robots. Interestingly it does not seem as though this is going to lead to a net decline in the number of jobs but it does mean that certain skill sets will be highly prized.  To illustrate this point, a friend of mine who used to be the senior global advisor for a major world bank recently set up a new company using AI to do analysis of global markets and political systems which previously would have been done by human analysts. While the need to do the initial analysis may have declined, the wisdom and discernment to convert that into strategy and action will only become more important and desired.

So what does this mean for education and us at St Peter’s?  We want to prepare you to be successful and fulfilled in your adult lives, to be leaders with humility and to make a positive impact in your world. We also want you to have a stimulating, exciting and fun time throughout life and while you are at school.

And what does that mean in practice?  It can be visualised as four pillars to support you throughout life.  The first is qualifications.  We live in a qualification-driven society and attaining the best grades you can enable you to embark on the initial years of life after school with confidence and open up a range of opportunities.

We also want you to develop interests – through your academic subjects and beyond in the co-curricular and all the other activities on offer at school.  This is where you will develop those activities to sustain you through life away from the world of work and where you will make friendships, relationships and communities.  They will also, of course, make you more interesting people to be with as well.

Underpinning it all is the development of values – a sense of right and wrong and of courtesy, kindness and how to engage with others as well as the grit and resilience to make the most of opportunities when they arise and manage the inevitable bumps in the road along the way.

Finally, we want you to develop skills – in your academic studies and in everything you do in the myriad of opportunities outside the classroom and this brings me back to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report where they identified the skills you will need to grasp the future, to shape it and to make the absolute most of the years ahead whether that be in ten, twenty, forty or sixty years’ time.  Their list is as follows:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation
  • Active learning and learning strategies
  • Creativity, originality and initiative
  • Technology design and programming
  • Systems analysis and evaluation
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Leadership and social influence
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation (the ability to form ideas and concepts)

Think where you develop these in and out of the classroom.  One of the things which strikes me about St Peter’s is how many of these run through everything that we do – in working independently or collaboratively in your academic studies, to the skills developed by being involved in teams whether we define that by sport, music, debating, House competitions or the wider realm of academic extension and one area we have been seeking to improve and need to do more on is in the realm of computing and technology  To a large extent you will develop these skills by osmosis and as a necessary by-product of what you do at school.  But imagine how powerful it can be when you become mindful of how you acquire or when you use such skills.  Then you really can face the future and say to yourself with confidence, I may not know what I will be doing in ten years’ time but, ‘bring it on and buckle up because it’s going to be an exciting ride’.