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UK skills gap set to widen as schools fail to prepare students for a digital future

Chris Rothwell, Director of Education, Microsoft UK

New research from Microsoft UK shows more than half of teachers (58 per cent) believe the current education system is failing to encourage lifelong learning.

  • 77 per cent feel unable to do their best work due to time and resource constraints
  • While 74 per cent agree technology aids students’ learning, just 15% feel confident using it
  • 44 per cent of teachers don’t believe today’s classrooms are set-up to facilitate modern learning
  • Only 42 per cent say their school is primarily focused on instilling the skills students need for success in the world of work

The current education system is failing to prepare students for the future, according to new research from Microsoft UK. Despite forecasts from the World Economic Forum that workers will need to be ‘agile lifelong learners’ in the workplace, students are not being set up for success. Less than half (42 per cent) of teachers surveyed say schools are instilling the skills students will need in the world of work.

The research, which unpicks the views of 755 UK primary and secondary school teachers, found that they are not able to do their best work due to time and resource constraints (77 per cent) and are forced to ‘get through the day’ instead of thinking creatively and innovatively about individual student needs (67 per cent).

It also uncovered that teachers are largely working in classrooms that are not fit for purpose – with over half (52 per cent) still mostly using analogue equipment and 54 per cent of students lacking access to devices. That’s despite teachers being clear on how technology can support student learning (74 per cent), create a more inclusive learning environment (53 per cent) and positively impact student-teacher collaboration (49 per cent).

Teachers are also not equipped to make the most of school technology investments, with just 15 per cent feeling confident about using technology and only a third (33 per cent) receiving hands-on training. This, coupled with time-poor schedules and disparity in teaching priorities, is holding educators back from making the most of the tools at their disposal and preparing students for the future.

Paul Watkins, Digital Learning Development Department, Ysgol Bae Baglan, a 3-16 all-through school in Neath, Port Talbot says:

“The biggest challenge in teaching today is finding the balance between work and personal life whilst simultaneously helping students achieve more. For us, the benefits of technology speak for themselves – giving teachers back time and enabling more engaging and inclusive lessons. The key is knowing what you want to achieve and empowering students with the skills, knowledge and ability to succeed in the working world.”

The need to evolve the skills being taught in today’s classrooms to adequately prepare pupils for the future was also underlined. While 41 per cent of teachers cited the ‘ability to retain information’ as a key skill currently being prioritised, just 6 per cent felt it would be important for students in the future. Instead, teachers feel that building ‘resilience’ (59 per cent) and ‘problem-solving (53 per cent) would be critical – with 66 per cent highlighting technology as critical for broadening student skillsets beyond the curriculum, including collaboration and digital skills.

Chris Rothwell, Director of Education, Microsoft UK says:

“The role of the teacher has never been more vital than it is today. Within a rapidly changing world, the next generation must be prepared with the confidence, skills and lifelong learning mindset needed to succeed. Teachers have a key role to play in instilling this. Our research shows that teachers, as always, are eager to go above and beyond to nurture future-ready skills and innovate in the classroom. What’s important is that they have the support that they need to help them get here: access to great learning environments, opportunities for strong professional development and the chance to work in evolving, transformational environments that support our future leaders.”

Microsoft urges schools to equip teachers with the confidence, tools, knowledge and environment to deliver the education students need to succeed in the future: 

  • Putting in place a leader to drive a future-focused strategy that integrates and embeds future-ready skills into the curriculum – find out more via the Education Transformation Framework
  • Integrating technology and digital skills into the curriculum to increase collaboration, peer-to-peer sharing and grow digital skills in young people through certifications and digital skills programmes – find out more at Microsoft Education
  • Creating and encouraging professional learning communities to inspire and support colleagues as they embrace technology and grow their own digital skills through professional development programmes – find out more via the Microsoft Educator Community
  • Learning more about cloud-based technology and easy-to-manage devices to stay modern in the classroom – find out more through Cloud for Education and Surface for Education

About this research: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 755 teachers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th November and 4th December 2018.

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