Session 2: Building the 21st Century teacher

Wellcome Collection, 25 January 2018

Our second session was an exploration of the future of leadership and teaching. We posited these questions to the group:

Will the 21st Century teacher need a specific set of skills and characteristics that go beyond teaching? What role does culture/arts have to play? What might this mean for leadership in schools and beyond?

While participants didn’t feel they’d be replaced by robots just yet, a challenging discussion ensued as many teachers described the difficulties of monitoring, assessments and high-stakes testing of our youngest pupils. Most felt this was directly at odds with taking creative risk in the classroom and was a key factor in the reduction of the cultural offers in their schools.

To further explore these themes we invited the group to take part in a PEST analysis. PEST is an acronym for Political, Economic, Social and Technological and is a tool used to strategically assess how these four factors may impact current or future scenarios; in our case, education, teaching and leadership.


The irony of sharing this exercise in a week when the new Education Secretary was named - the fourth in as many years - was not lost on the group. A lively discussion followed about the distance between new, sometimes ideological policymaking, the reality of day to day school life and the true pace at which things can change. This led to a wider discussion about the critical role of consultation and listening in leadership and how lasting change is most effectively built through consent.


Doing more with less was a mantra for many of our teachers and whilst this had encouraged ingenuity and innovation, it had also created upheaval. There were glimmers of hope are close at hand: case in point, the extraordinary West Thornton Primary Academy in Croydon, an Ofsted Outstanding school with a challenging socio-economic intake yet with a resource-rich arts and culture programme.

Our group felt effective collaboration and creating meaningful relationships beyond the school walls would play a big part in 21st Century teaching and leadership. Sharing expertise and resources, both within the school and the wider community, would be necessary to compensate for budget cuts.

There was a strong sense that teachers would also need to better understand how to access funding, either through partnerships or as individuals. Many participants were already aware of grants such as Awards for All and Arts Award Access fund. However, demanding schedules and time pressures meant many teachers had limited their ability to access them.


Our group felt strongly that a focus on wellbeing would play a much larger role for both staff and students. Many teachers believed this was necessary to stem burnout and the current high levels of staff attrition.

With reports suggesting that at least one in 10 children have diagnosed mental health problems, participants felt the current “wellbeing movement” was a positive development. That said, they also believe there is more work to be done in raising awareness and developing measurable processes that can effectively support children’s emotional development. Many teachers are already engaged in research and pilot projects in this area and believe wellbeing will further inform educational policy and curriculum development in the future.


This was the most inventive part of our break-out and group discussions. Most of the group admitted they were excited about the possibilities afforded by new technologies to inspire and excite all learners. Reference was made to the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality, highly-personalised learning programmes created by algorithms, gamification and shifting understanding of what classrooms and schools can be as desk-bound learning becomes irrelevant.

Key learning

  • Cultural leaders need to be aware of the full spectrum of influences - political, social, economic and technological - in order to be effective advocates for change. This awareness needs to reach beyond the school walls.
  • New technology presents tremendous potential to create more space for effective teaching and learning, though it also presents challenges in terms of how and when it’s used and also which schools have the human and fiscal resources to take best advantage of it.
  • Wellbeing will be increasingly important and visible issues in schools, and the arts stand to play a potentially huge and positive role in improving the mental health of both teachers and pupils.