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Hinds says schools face digital challenge

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Damian Hinds emphasised academic rigour and the importance of “character”

Schools need to prepare young people for a digital revolution and a fast-changing jobs market, says England’s new education secretary, Damian Hinds.

In his first public speech since taking up the post, Mr Hinds said schools needed a mix of traditional academic subjects and a sense of “resilience” and skills such as public speaking.

Mr Hinds said that a high proportion of new jobs would require digital skills.

He also called for improvements in vocational training for adults.

The education secretary said young people needed the skills to be able to “write apps” as well as being able to use them.

He said lessons in computing were needed to prepare young people for industries being changed by artificial intelligence and the arrival of technologies such as autonomous vehicles.

Speaking at the Education World Forum in London, Mr Hinds emphasised the need for both “core academic subjects” and other, “soft skills” that could make young people more employable.

‘Sports and voluntary work’

But in his first presentation since becoming education secretary in the recent ministerial reshuffle, he gave few clues about any significant change in direction.

Instead, Mr Hinds focused on how schools needed to prepare people for a shifting jobs market – and the importance of skills in communication and developing character.

“I would suggest that there is nothing soft about these skills,” he told this international education gathering.

“The hard reality of soft skills is, actually, these things around the workplace, and these things around character and resilience are important for anybody to achieve in life, as well as for the success of our economy,” said Mr Hinds.

He stressed the importance of the “ethos of a school, the expectations set for students” and activities such as “sport, public speaking and voluntary work”.

Mr Hinds said these would shape the “character, resilience and workplace skills that our young people take with them”.

The new education secretary also pointed to the importance of helping adults to retrain for a changing jobs market.

The conference heard that the UK’s economy could receive a huge financial boost if there were improvements in the levels of basic skills.

Andreas Schleicher, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) director of education, said that a fifth of 15-year-olds in the UK struggled to achieve even the most basic levels in maths and reading.

“If the United Kingdom were to ensure that all students had at least basic skills, the economic gains could reach $3.6 trillion (£2.58trn) in additional income for the economy over the working life of these students,” he told the conference.

On the basis of standards rising in other countries, Mr Schleicher said: “Such improvements in educational performance are entirely realistic.”

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