Dame Kate Bingham has revealed to @TheTimes #EducationCommission when first offered the position of Head of the UK Vaccine Taskforce her own lack of self-confidence made her question if she was qualified for the position. She goes on to say it is hard for women to pursue professions such as science as they are ‘daunted’ by it.

She, along with other experts were participating in yesterday's Times Education Commission evidence session focused on the school curriculum.

The Artistic Director of the English National Ballet Tamara Rojo also told the commission that ‘dance is a good solution’ to beating obesity and giving children the opportunity to express their inner feelings. 

Dr Zaahida Nabagereka, the Colour Programme Manager at Penguin Books, explained why Black History Month is problematic and that ‘we need to have these stories and narratives woven through our every day.

The full list of experts at yesterday’s (Tuesday 21st September) session include:

  • Tamara Rojo - English National Ballet Artistic Director 
  • Sathnam Sanghera - Author & Journalist
  • Rufus Norris & Alice King-Farlow - Artistic Director and Director of Learning at the National Theatre
  • Dr Zaahida Nabagereka & Hafsa Zayyan - Lit in Colour Programme Manager at Penguin and Author 
  • Kate Bingham - Former Head of the UK Vaccine Taskforce

Kate Bingham

Women are daunted by science careers 

02.27.42: So, I certainly think there’s too much specialisation. I also think that it is hard for women to go into some of these professions because they’re daunted by it.

02.31.43: I’m afraid I’m part of it. This whole - perfection is too strong but - lack of confidence if you don’t think you’re qualified to do something. So, my reaction when the PM called me - or when Matt Hancock originally called me - was, you know, why me? I can’t do this. There must be somebody better. And that’s a classic female approach. And it was only, in hindsight, now I go back and analyse it, you kind of think, well, a venture capitalist approach was exactly the right approach to chair the VTF. But, I do think women have that as sort of an inbuilt problem. I really should have not had that - I’ve been doing this for 30 years. It wasn’t as if I was being asked to do something that was wildly out of my comfort zone. So I think there’s that aspect. I think that's the way they’re presented. And actually - expectation. People don’t expect to have lots of female engineers. Nor do they actually expect to have lots of sciency women like me in finance. Because I am, ultimately, in the financial services. And yes I do it through science, but fundamentally I am a finance person.

5% target of pupils on full bursaries at independent schools 

02.47.06: And at St Paul’s Girls, we were head and shoulders - I don’t think 10x more than everyone else, but we were way above everyone else. And if we’re only in, when I was there sort of 10 to 12% of the school roll was on bursaries, admittedly full bursaries, largely full bursaries. So, given that we were so high, I think, you would have to, to get people to do it, you would have to pitch at a lower level to actually make it accessible, because I think most schools won’t be as successful as St Paul’s was. But if you picked something like 5% - yeah, why not? Why wouldn’t you do that? And then you force the school to actually use some of their fee income to actually invest in access to smart people who otherwise couldn’t pay. It’s obviously a richer education.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award [for Science] or "The Kate Bingham Award"! 

02.54.39: So, you know, can there be competitions? Could there be areas that go beyond the curriculum which would encompass teams, would encompass the understanding of what it is you’re building, which would then be valued by university or employers, such that was a reason for kids to do it. Because, at the moment, you have an incredibly siloed - well, universities need three A Levels, and if I want to do this course, I have to do these three A Levels. Whereas, actually, if you said, and I know there are extended essays, but often those extended essays are pretty closely related to what they’re doing at school anyway. But actually, if you did something that was a, you know, you develop an underwater robot and you go into a competition, or whatever it may be, and that almost counts as a qualification in itself and is a real endorsement. That would start getting to the ideas of creativity, team, getting beyond this is a four number answer and therefore I have to give four points to answer this one…

02.56.53: ...And make it something that employers and universities value. Because if there’s no obvious value, no one’s going to do it.

02.57.08: ...I think the Duke of Edinburgh for Science, I think is the exact, or not even science, but you need something with creativity and practicality in there.

Tamara Rojo

Teaching maths through ballet

00.04.01: And so, in Massachusetts, in the Institute of Technology in Massachusetts, they started to develop a programme to teach mathematics to girls using dance. And I’ve always been quite a mathematical mind and I realised very early on that choreography and what we do in class, which is patterns, is basically mathematical equations. And my mind works well in dance and works well in remembering choreography because I have a mathematical mind and I see the equations and I see the patterns. And so they’ve reversed that. They use the dance to explain mathematics to girls that don’t have a natural inclination to use or to choose those subjects. And the results were staggering. The girls that took part in the programme achieved a 273% improvement in maths results. And 110% improvement in confidence. And then went on to choose science, technology, mathematics and engineering. And so that has now been expanded. It is a programme that is called SHINE for Girls. It is about empowering women to value their own potential and capability within science, technology, engineering and mathematics - so in STEM subjects.

'Levelling up' through the arts

00.05.34: As we talk about “levelling up”, as well, in the UK, the possibility of entering any kind of art, music, theatre is a real opportunity of levelling up. We see the success stories are very often, you know, whether it’s Ed Sheeran, whoever, James Brown, you know, Nick Heiner - these are working class people that enter in their school, in the everyday, a world that their lives or their families don’t belong to, whether it’s theatre, it’s music, it’s pop, it’s all kind of things, it’s dance, and they go on to have very successful careers and that they themselves open up paths for children of the next generation of diverse backgrounds or poor, or lesser economic backgrounds. So if the Government is really committed to levelling up, I would suggest, look again, at what you are giving as opportunities in schools, both for girls, but also for all kinds of children.

The perception of dance and creative subjects

00.07.57: I think there is that perception, absolutely. I think it’s a pity because the reality is that in the UK is full of immigrants like myself because in fact dance is a real career here and there’s real opportunities. But we still have work to do in the sector to explain how that is possible. But I think more importantly, the point is not that dance has to be your end goal, it’s what dance gives you in other skill sets for life. So it gives you resilience, it gives you the ability to concentrate, it teaches you how to focus. Things that now children do struggle with, dance can be the tool to unlock those patterns of learning.

Dance for children's health

00.09.36: The other thing that is a real challenge today is health - health for children that live very sedentary lifestyles, with a lot of obesity already in children. Dance is a good solution to that. Exercise for exercise sake only appeals to very few people. I hate exercising. I detest going to the gym. But I love dancing. And most people feel like that. And so if you enforce exercise, and also you make it as a punishment for having a bad diet, very few children are going to sign in for the long time. But if you just tell them, come and dance, express yourself, find ways of expressing your inner feelings, which is such a challenge for young people today, as well, in an environment which is not judgmental, where you can just dance your way out of whatever frustrations you have, but also we’re going to give you consistency and we’re also going to give you a curriculum and some research and we’re going to give you a performance where you feel you’re going to be seen, that pattern is what changes things.

Sathnam Sanghera

Work experience

00.43.32: I think the biggest issue is work experience. And you know work experience begins quite early at school, isn’t it? I mean, I couldn’t get any work experience. I remember applying for 300 - sending 300 letters and getting 3 responses back. And I think one of the things that makes work experience really difficult for people from working class backgrounds is that all the best work experience slots are taken by the middle classes. And this is a very difficult thing about social mobility. If you want social mobility, you want working classes to do better, some people need to become socially immboile. So, middle class people need to stop taking, stop being nepotistic, and stop taking all the best slots for themselves. And I find that once kids get their foot in the door, that’s the main thing. Often they can do very well.”

Decolonising the curriculum and diffusing culture wars

00.51.30: It’s often said that decolonising is about, you know, taking away a study of old, white men. And I absolutely don’t think it needs to be that. I think decolonising is a terrible phrase which puts people’s backs about. I think it’s about widening the curriculum and expanding history I think. I use the example of WW1 and WW2 but actually the Tudors is another example - everyone leaves school knowing about Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth. I didn’t realise until recently that there were black Tudors. I didn’t realise Elizabeth I was complaining about there being too many black people in London in 1601. So that’s a way in which you can take a traditional subject and add an imperial element to it. I think decolonising is an awful phrase and we just need to widen it. And widening the curriculum is completely in keeping with academic tradition. So the problem until now is that we study white authors in isolation. Putting them in an imperial context actually is totally in keeping with academic tradition. It’s about giving people a wider sense of the books they’re studying. And I used the example of Jane Austen. That would have just been really interesting to look at Jane Austen in context of slavery. It would have been a way to make something seemingly distant relevant to modern Britain.

00.54.22: One of the reasons why we’ve struggled to teach empire is that it’s been seen through the prism of feeling. Through pride and shame. Through arguing about whether it’s good or bad. And what you have, you have basically the children of the colonised up against the children of colonisers, reenacting the empire. The moment you accept history is an argument - children are quite sophisticated. They can understand that people have different views on the empire. And I think you can study events like the Mutiny of 1857, partition, Clive of India, and you can tell them some people think he’s great and some people think he’s terrible. And I think kids are able to get into that and they’re really sophisticated and I don’t think we’ve given them credit for that. We’ve been keen to give them a certain view of the empire when we actually need to give them multiple views and we need to let them decide for themselves.

Rufus Norris and Alice King-Farlow

Over emphasis on knowledge-based learning

01.10.48: I think we feel very strongly that the heavy emphasis on knowledge-based learning is the opposite of a rounded education in many ways. That practice-based learning has taken a complete backseat over the last decade or more. And that is very detrimental to young people’s learning. And second is that it also fosters a complete disparity of access and we’ve ended up in the situation where huge numbers of students are discriminated against, frankly, because of the postcode lottery or the parentage that they have and the lack of access to arts. You know, you can be in one school and have a fine old time of it, and another, through nothing other than chance, which means that you have no opportunity for the rounded education that the arts can bring. Obviously, that is also reflected in the curriculum.

Eton theatres

01.36.51: One of the things that I find very frustrating is that many of the people that have been making, fixing the knowledge-based agenda and driving some of the more on your feet aspects of our education system, have themselves benefited very, very strongly from the opposite. If you go to Eton, the theatre is better equipped than our theatres. And that isn’t because it’s frivolous. That is because the people are spending a lot of money to send their children, including many members of the front bench, and understand that it is a key part of their education.

Penguin's Lit in Colour (Dr Zaahida Nabagereka)

The problem with 'Black History Month'

02.04.06: I think Black History Month can be quite a controversial topic. And what we’d certainly want to put forward is this idea: why just a month? Actually, we need to have these stories and narratives woven through our everyday. We need to normalise black and brown people’s stories - you know, from excellence, to mediocrity, to failure. We need all of those reflected back in what we’re studying and we can’t just have a month. Because what does that tell students? That says okay we’ve got this amount of time, and yes it does just become a box ticking exercise. And this was something picked up by a young person in our research, actually. They said we did something for Black History Month and we haven’t done anything since. And that gives you the sense that it’s not important. They don’t matter.

Representation of people of colour in picture books

02.16.54: You can’t be what you can’t see. And if we don’t have representation of people of colour at all levels of society, that marginalises what people think they can be. Because if you can’t see other people that look like you, how is your path going to be put forward?...

02.17.21: ...This starts very, very young in terms of picture books. We know that a child is 8x more likely to have a picture book with an animal as the main character than a child of colour. So it’s from a very early age that these ideas are kind of crystalised. And often by the time you get to secondary, it can be too late. So you’ve got a lot of work to do in showing this representation. And I think books are a key part of doing that, at primary, at secondary and then going on to university.


The Times Education Commission is a year-long project expected to inform government policy and to lead to radical change across schools, colleges and universities. The commission brings together experts including senior MPs, business leaders, scientists, head teachers, academics, vice-chancellors and a children’s author. It has a wide-ranging remit, including the curriculum, qualifications, social mobility, exclusions, new technology, lifelong learning and the number of people going to university.

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