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Q&A with Sean Coughlan, BBC Education Correspondent

In the run up to The Academies Show on April 26th 2017, we are asking a number of our speakers and sponsors for their thoughts and opinions on the academies and wider education sector, and what the future may hold for those in teaching, and other education roles.




Hear from Sean Coughlan, BBC Education Correspondent, and moderator of our Hot Seat Interview Zone:




In light of the EU referendum, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the sector in the coming years?

It’s hard to know anything certain until we see more about how Brexit is put into practice.

There will be specific questions about EU staff working in schools and colleges and questions about future recruitment.

There have already been indications of greater emphasis on vocational and technical education, with employers already concerned about skills shortages and the need to make sure there are enough people trained for high-skilled jobs.

But many of the underlying approaching issues for education, such as the impact of artificial intelligence changing the workplace and taking more jobs, would be same regardless of the links with Europe.

And the big practical questions are likely to remain about capacity – with schools being concerned about having enough funding to keep up with rising cost pressures.

They will to need to keep pace with enough extra school places for an increasing demand from a rising population.

Recruiting teachers, particularly in shortage subjects, is likely to remain a challenge.

The Government is due to release its proposals for reforming the school system. What do you hope/ expect for these proposals?

It’s likely that the headlines will be taken by the moves to remove the ban on expanding selection and the moves to create new grammar schools.

There will also be the job of explaining to the public a new way of awarding GCSEs, with numbers 9 to 1 replacing the old letter-based system.

Changes to the funding of schools will continue to be a big issue with many school leaders very concerned about budget levels.

In the recent influential PISA tables by the OECD the UK made little progress in international rankings since results three years ago. What do you think we can learn from other international education systems?

The top performing countries – such as Finland, South Korea, Singapore and Canada – are all very different in their approaches and cultures.

But there are some common themes that give an indication of what works. They all put an emphasis on investing in the quality of teaching. They have incentives to recruit very good students into teaching and then give them lots of continuous training once they are in schools. As is often said, no school system can be better than the quality of its teachers.

The other point to make about all these examples is that none of them started out with a top education system, it wasn’t some kind of inevitability. They have established this over decades, through sustained planning and investment.

What do you think the sector will look like in 5 years’ time?

We’re into the territory of not just the known unknowns, but the unknown unknowns!

So much political effort and debate are going to be expended by the process of leaving the EU, it’s far from clear how much energy will remain for anything substantial in other areas of domestic policy.

The most pressing issue for schools in the next couple of years will be about budgets and funding and this in turn will depend on public spending arrangements.

Beyond 2020 and a possible election and another spending review… you would need a fully-functioning crystal ball to make any predictions…

Finally, what is the one message that you would want visitors to take away with them from the Academies Show London 2017?

It’s being held at the Excel Centre in Docklands. So (as well as going by DLR) you could get there by boat and then cable car. It’s not often you get the chance to go to an education show and travel like a Bond villain.

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