A 21st Century curriculum is about personalisation and relevance to the individual. A custom pathway which will provide all young people with a network of support, information, advice and guidance leading to a positive destination which they can then sustain. This of course, has implications on practice, provision and capacity for those schools wishing to expand their portfolio of experiences.

I have seen similar approaches globally; educational reform is ripe throughout the international scene.

Schools are now required to be proactive in their approach to provision; timetables which follow a traditional suite of courses need to be challenged. Schools need to be adventurous; there is already diverse and wide ranging innovation and creativity across the profession and this needs to be supported by senior leaders, local government and by other strategic partners.

This is an opportunity to shape the future of learning and teaching. Tweaking existing structures isn’t enough however, there needs to be more systemic change at the roots. Ad-hoc arrangements which act as a ‘bolt-on’ to the formal, structured curriculum are not sustainable and will only be successful for a minority of young people for the duration in which they are funded.

We are trying to instil the value of education and lifelong learning into our young people. For this to happen, they need to know what they are doing and why it is relevant. A 21st Century school will empower each young person to shape their own progression. through this realisation.

Teachers don’t teach subjects, they teach young people.

Amongst the many facets of learning and teaching there lies a core set of skills supplemented by a ranging and diverse set of experiences and knowledge.

In the past, focus has been on the subject or the course and not necessarily the content. Many fail to relate, successfully, the cohesion between the Experiences and Outcomes and the Senior Phase. How would a set of skills, gained through interdisciplinary learning, place a young person in the position to choose and sustain a post-16 learning opportunity? Indeed, how would a teacher be able to recommend that a young person is suitable, or not, for a particular course?

The answer lies within the skills and content of what is delivered. To an extent, within the ‘traditional courses’, this simply means that all the good things which produce effective and recognised outcomes can be related back to the wider framework. The important thing to remember is the focus on relevance, breadth and diversity. This process allows teachers to do what they do best; teach.

It is the teaching profession which recognises all the good parts of what is delivered already and it is the responsibility of the teaching profession to extract this and deliver, in its raw state, skills to all our young people which are fit for today’s world and for tomorrow.

Here’s an example. A young person is accredited with skills which provide added value to what they are actually learning. The table below illustrates what this may look like.

Mathematical Skills Analytical Skills
Problem Solving Skills Investigative Skills
Communication Skills IT Skills
Good Working Habits Personal Skills

Mathematics will develop capacity to assimilate and communicate information. During lessons young people will be required to organise and record a mass of mathematical detail, both spoken and written. Homework exercises, and any essays and projects, will reinforce understanding. Young people may well find themselves discussing mathematics in conversation with their fellow students and teachers. Through these experiences they will have the opportunity to learn how to listen effectively, present sums clearly, write essays and present to groups of people.

Identity can still be assigned to each skill. For example, Mathematics: Information Technology – using email and the internet would be different to English: Information Technology – using email and the internet, because the application is different. By recognising the differences and by reducing duplication, schools can teach to the value of education.

This is true ‘cross-curricular’ and interdisciplinary learning, based on skills, determination, perseverance, creativity, self-confidence and intellectual rigor.


Posted by Lee Dunn

Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lee Dunn, Lee Dunn. Lee Dunn said: A 21st Century School – Structure and Process: http://wp.me/pUhln-2C […]

  2. Really interesting post Lee! You are so right about the need for a cross over of skills. We cannot keep feeding in facts & expect understanding. Nowadays, young people do question the relevance (even at primary) so we need to have thought it through ourselves. Not sure that tyhe ‘testing’ element has understood the need for this change though!

  3. A great post! I think the most salient point you make is that teachers SHOULD see themselves as teaches of children NOT of subjects. Unfortunately this is not the case in my experience. Most teachers in secondary schools still define themselves by subject; even if a school leader recognises the need to head along an “interdisciplinary” route it may be difficult to build the consensus required for such a move. Collaborative projects between subjects could be a starting point whereby subjects retain their identity yet begin to see how they contribute to the overall experience of students.

  4. I completely agree Lee. The question I grapple with as a former schools ministers is how we get there! But your vision is right and very helpfully articulated


  5. […] United Nations (UNESCO IBE) ← A 21st Century School – Structure and Process […]

  6. I agree- I felt moved to write an article in TESS last year about secondary teachers and defining ourselves by our subjects. I happen to be a teacher with Biology and Psychology degree/ post grad qualifications. I’m not a Biologist or a Psychologist. I wish more of my colleagues wool be a little prouder of being teachers instead of so-called subject specialists.

  7. Thanks for your comment I totally agree with you, a huge culture shift needed I think!

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