NC30: Memorandum submitted by National Endowment for Science,

Technology and the Arts (NESTA)


Executive summary

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), with its mission to transform the UK's capacity for innovation, welcomes this enquiry into the National Curriculum.


The National Curriculum has played an important role in raising school standards, but to meet the economic and social challenges of the 21st century, the UK needs to build a society and economy based on the ability of its citizens and workforce to develop innovative ideas and solutions in response to these challenges.


This calls for a National Curriculum that develops the wider skills needed to stimulate innovation. These skills include the flexibility, resourcefulness and capacity to seek out and learn new competencies as changes in the working environment demand. They are underpinned by self belief, self awareness, the ability to collaborate effectively and an informed attitude to risk-taking.


The flexibility of the new secondary curriculum and the introduction of the 14-19 Diplomas provide opportunities to develop these skills, but to help schools utilise them, NESTA encourages the Inquiry to recommend that Government:


a. Provides more information to teachers about how to provide meaningful contexts for the development of these wider skills in young people.


b. Instigates an exchange of best practice between schools on how to measure the attainment and development of these skills.


c. Encourages greater collaboration between business and education, particularly with emerging sectors of the economy, which provide mutual benefits for both parties.


d. Extends the 'power to innovate' for frontline staff, as outlined in the recent White Paper.





2. NESTA is the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. NESTA's mission is to transform the UK's capacity for innovation. We conduct research to build a body of evidence about how best to support, measure and improve UK innovation; we develop innovation programmes to encourage in the UK a culture that helps innovation to flourish; and we invest in early stage high tech companies.


3. NESTA welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Committee. It has a long-standing interest in education and runs a programme, Future Innovators, which helps to develop the skills and attitudes needed by young people to conceive and implement ideas in the future.



Purpose of the National Curriculum


4. NESTA welcomes the increased focus on skills in the new secondary curriculum. For skills to flourish, however, young people must be provided with meaningful contexts for their development and more effective methods must be established for measuring their attainment.


5. An additional core purpose must be to prepare young people for a fast-changing economy and society. In so doing, the Curriculum must equip young people with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to enable them not only to cope with such changes, but also to create opportunities from them.


6. To date much of the debate on skills has centred on the UK's deficiency in basic skills. As the Leitch Review of Skills recognised[1], there is a formidable challenge to get the UK to raise its academic standards, with currently a third of adults without a basic school-leaving qualification and five million with no qualifications at all.


7. We consider that basic skills are crucial, but that developing wider skills can support their acquisition and also impact positively on the motivation and engagement of students. This can, in turn, support overall performance.



The skills needed in the modern world


8. In 2006, NESTA commissioned the Institute of Education to identify some of the crucial skills needed for innovation.[2] They include self belief, the ability to collaborate and an informed attitude to risk-taking. Such aptitudes are valuable to all young people in helping them succeed in life and work and in supporting their learning of other skills.[3]


9. This message is reinforced by Richard Reeves, a commentator on the future workplace, in a forthcoming NESTA publication[4]: "With the shelf-life of professional knowledge falling, it is clear that the most important skill will be the capacity to abandon old skills and embrace new ones. Learning, rather than being taught, is the future."


10. The Government has also recognised the importance of an informed understanding of risk-taking. The recent Government report 'Enterprise; unlocking the UK's talent'[5], identified that individuals in the UK do not appreciate the returns or opportunities from enterprise and overstate the likelihood and consequences of failure.



The chasm between young people's perceptions and employer's needs


11. The challenge is that these wider skills tend not to be as valued in society, with the consequence that young people fail to recognise their relevance or their importance for gaining employment. Recent DEMOS research for NESTA[6] found that 79 per cent of young people see qualifications as one of the three most important factors in getting a job, but only 12 per cent recognise having good ideas as important.


12. Employers, on the other hand, are placing increasing importance on these wider skills. Employers identify communication skills, teamworking, customer handling and problem-solving as bigger skills shortages than literacy and numeracy[7] and a survey for Bain & Co found that four in five senior executives identified creativity and innovation as a top three priority for business strategy.[8] Research for the Edge Foundation found that 67 per cent of employers believed schools were not equipping young people with vital work skills and 71 per cent would consider hiring young people with poor exam grades who had completed a large amount of work experience.[9]


What needs to be done


13. The Curriculum and how it is delivered has a crucial role in addressing the mismatch between the future needs of the economy and society and the perceptions of today's young people about what these are.


14. The proposal to extend the 'power to innovate' for frontline staff, as outlined in the recent White Paper 'Innovation Nation'[10] is an opportunity for those in education to experiment with new approaches to make the Curriculum relevant and engaging for learners.



Measurement and testing these skills


15. The low priority often given to these wider skills may be due in part to challenges around measuring their development. Working with NESTA, the QCA could play a leading role in developing an understanding of how to evaluate the effectiveness of different learning strategies and interventions and in facilitating best practice in this area.


16. Work also needs to be done to appreciate how these wider skills can impact on overall performance. There is some emerging evidence of this.[11]

Ofsted concluded[12] that effective enterprise education can result in better teaching and learning across the Curriculum and a report from the DCMS[13] asserted that "there is increasing evidence that head teachers are seeing creativity in the Curriculum as the way of achieving the next step change in pupil attainment."


17. NESTA has commissioned Professor Elizabeth Chell from Kingston University to develop an assessment tool to measure the innovative capacity of young people and to identify those specific characteristics that may be developed in students through either formal or informal education. Once the tool has been developed and successfully trialled, it will be made available to NESTA's partners to enable them to understand the impact of their work.


The transition to and delivery of the 14-19 Diplomas


18. NESTA has welcomed the opportunity for young people to have access to more vocational learning. To facilitate transition to and delivery of the 14-19 Diplomas, as well as inculcating a broad range of skills, stronger links need to be made between business and education.


19. This includes exposing young people to more of the emerging sectors of the economy and to new working practices. For example, in the last decade, the Creative Industry sector has grown twice as fast as the overall economy and now employs 1.8 million people.[14] However, there are many challenges in providing relevant work-related learning experiences in this sector, which is characterised largely by SMEs and freelancers.


20. NESTA is commissioning research on how best to facilitate links between schools, young people and these emerging sectors of the economy, or those sectors that are not traditionally seen as providing work-related learning opportunities. NESTA's research is focussed on the creative industries, the rural economy and the third sector and will consider the benefits derived for the participating young people, schools and businesses.



March 2008


[1] Leitch, S. (2006), 'Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills', (HM Treasury, London).

[2] Reiss, M., Brant, J. Wales, J. (2006), 'Skills and Attitudes for Future Innovators', (Institute of Education, University of London, London).

[3] Ofsted. (2005), 'Developing enterprising young people: features of the successful implementation of enterprise education at Key Stage 4', (Ofsted, London).

[4] NESTA. (2008), 'Preparing for the future', (NESTA, London).

[5] HM Treasury and Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (2008), 'Enterprise: unlocking the UK's talent'. (HM Treasury and BERR, London).

[6] Green, H and O'Leary, D. (2007), 'Ready for the future? Young people's views on work and careers', (Demos, London).

[7] Learning and Skills Council. (2006), 'National Employers Skills Survey 2005' (LSC, London).

[8] See: Last accessed 14.03.08

[9] 'School "doesn't prepare pupils for work"', Education Guardian, 19 Dec 2005.

[10] Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills (2008), 'Innovation Nation'. (DIUS, London).

[11] Eames, A. Benton, T. Sharp, C. Kendall, L. (2006), 'The longer term impact of Creative Partnerships on the attainment of young people'. (National Foundation for Educational Research, London).

[12] Ofsted (2005), Developing enterprising young people: features of the successful implementation of enterprise education at Key Stage 4, (Ofsted, London).

[13] Roberts, P. (2006), 'Nurturing Creativity in Young People, A report to Government to inform future policy'. (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, London).

[14] Hutton, W. O'Keeffe, A. Schneider, P. Andari, R. Bakhshi, H. (2007) 'Staying Ahead: The Economic Performance of the UK's Creative Industries'. (The Work Foundation, London).