Skip to content

This BERA Blog special issue started out as a seminar series in which we brought together policymakers, educational practitioners and researchers to discuss what we are educating for across the English educational system. The seminar series webpage contains summaries of the discussions in each of the seminars. The structure of the series was to examine this question in relation to the education system as a whole then in relation to early years, primary, secondary, further and vocational and higher education.

Although it has always been significant, the question of what we are educating for is now particularly important because of the growing consensus that the educational challenges we face require long-term solutions, while political imperatives tend to be focused on short-term priorities. The challenges facing the world are changing dramatically including the climate and nature emergency, the development of generative artificial intelligence, and the changing nature of work. This has highlighted clear tensions between whether we are educating for employment, for credentials, for engagement in further studies, or for engagement with society more broadly. To explore these tensions, the seminar series focused on four questions:

  1. What are we educating for in the education system? How does this change at different stages and levels of education?
  2. Who should determine what we are educating for? What are the mechanisms through which this should be determined?
  3. What roles should policymakers, practitioners and researchers have in shaping what we are educating for?
  4. What are the current relationships between policy, practice and research in education, and how might these be improved?

‘The question of what we are educating for is now particularly important because of the growing consensus that the educational challenges we face require long-term solutions, while political imperatives tend to be focused on short-term priorities.’

In the seminar series, we heard from politicians, policymakers, educational leaders, educators and researchers, and there was a remarkable consistency in the issues that were raised across the different educational stages. A common theme was the need to develop flexible educational pathways, which people can move between at different times in their lives. Similarly, there seemed to be a lack of meaningful dialogue between policymakers, educational practitioners and educational researchers in England. Frequently raised concerns were the use of simplistic metrics to judge educational effectiveness, the apparent de-professionalisation of teaching, and a reduction in the time and space available for meaningful teacher agency and creativity.

Building on the seminar series, this BERA Blog special issue focuses on what we are educating for in English education. By taking a fine-grained perspective on the different educational stages within a single educational system, this special issue is intended to have relevance to a wider UK and international readership by offering readers the opportunity to consider how these issues play out in their own setting.

The two blog posts following this introduction focus on what are we educating for across the educational system. In the first blog post, Paul Ashwin, Professor of Higher Education at Lancaster University, discusses how educational researchers might engage in the policymaking process. In the second blog post, Jo-Anne Baird, Director of the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, considers whose views are prioritised in educational policymaking. The remaining blog posts focus on particular educational stages. In the third blog post, Naomi Eisenstadt, former Director of Sure Start, examines the tension between childcare and education in early years education. In the fourth blog post, Jo Warin, Professor of Gender and Social Relations in Education at Lancaster University, argues for an ethic of mutual care in early years education. In the fifth blog post, Gorana Henry, Director of the Primary PGCE Programme at the UCL Institute of Education, considers what we could be educating for in primary education; and, in the sixth blog post, Marlon Moncrieffe, President Elect of BERA, considers who should determine what we are educating for in primary education. In the seventh blog post, former Secretary of State for Education, Charles Clarke, examines the political priorities for post-14 secondary education; and, in the eighth blog post, Nicola Walshe, Executive Director of the UCL Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education, examines how secondary education can help young people to develop agency and hope in the face of the climate emergency. In the ninth blog post, Ann-Marie Bathmaker, Professor Emerita of Vocational and Higher Education at the University of Birmingham, examines further education for extraordinary people; and, in the 10th blog post, Martin Doel, former Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, considers what vocational education is for. In the 11th blog post, Nicola Dandridge, former Chief Executive of the Office for Students, argues that higher education is both for the benefit of students and the public good. In the 12th blog post, Peter Scott, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education Studies at UCL Institute for Education, examines the tension between transactional and educative higher education.

As will become clear through this special issue, although the blog posts are grouped by educational stages, many of the issues discussed cut across those stages. For example, while the climate emergency is the focus of a secondary education blog post, it is an issue that is relevant to all stages of education. Similarly, the tension between the transactional and educative, which is discussed in relation to higher education, is an issue for all forms of education.

The intention of the blog series is to open-up debates about what we are educating for across the educational system in England and beyond. Such debates are an essential part of the democratic process. We need to have inclusive and evidence-informed discussions – between policymakers, educational leaders, educators, educational researchers, those who are being educated, and those who care for them – about what we are educating for if we are to develop an inclusive and transformative education system.