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Hindsight 2020

Associate, Senior Lecturer in Education and author specialist Martin Illingworth fills in some of the gaps between the publication of his controversial new book Forget School and the dramatic changes we see around us now.

Can you imagine what is important? Do you know anymore? What should we tell the children? Why should children still go to school? Has the world left our curriculum behind?

What should we tell the children?

Before the world needed a 'new normal', I had just completed writing a book, Forget School; the accumulation and collation of interviews with 20- to 30-year-olds about the value of their schooling to the lives they were living.

What Young People Wanted

These young people told me that they had needed us to teach them to be confident, to support them to be digitally proficient and to show them how to manage their money. They wanted to be able to network and collaborate, developing their talents through being trusted to make decisions and being given the chance to make mistakes. They wanted us to promote well-being and they wanted our help with understanding and developing their relationships. This was the education they wanted. This was the education that it turned out their adult lives needed. They wished it had been clear that this education we offered was for them and of value.

Imagine then an education system in which there are no examinations and instead the teachers are trusted to award merit to the work of their pupils. After all, they know them best.

Imagine too, a world in which class sizes are reduced to fifteen in a room allowing children greater access to their teacher and on some days the children don't come to the school buildings at all but instead pursue their projects and topics at home on-line, and in their local surroundings.

Imagine the networks of children across the world that might work together to explore perspectives on the things that really matter to their lives. Not a national curriculum but an international curriculum. A personal curriculum…

Imagine if you can that children collect their school work in an online portfolio; their best writing and thinking, a record of their skills and experiences, a library of their reading and an analysis of their interests and capacities.

Imagine if this portfolio stayed with them all their lives, being adapted and added to as the world of work changes constantly around them. A genuine record that stays up to date, recognising where training and help is needed.

Unstable Facts

The facts we teach today are less stable than once they were. What we know changes fast; we are all going to have to learn, then unlearn and then relearn. The capacity to relearn, to adapt and accept change as a constant, is the only skill that will outrun a future that has arrived before we were ready for it.

Imagine an education that acknowledges its sell-by date, that knows that the ways we live, the ways we think and the ways we communicate will not stand still.

It would seem that coronavirus is offering us the chance to imagine again. Will your new normal be a return to the old normal? What can you imagine?

What will you tell the children? [ITL]


You can pick up a copy of Martin's controversial book, Forget School, from the Independent Thinking Press website.

To find out more about booking Martin Illingworth for your school, college or organisation call us on 01267 211432 or drop us an email on

About the author

Martin Illingworth

Martin is an English specialist with many years as a teacher who is now a Senior Lecturer in Education at Sheffield Hallam University. As well as books written around his subject specialism, he has also written Think Before You Teach and the controversial (but highly post-Covid world relevant) Forget School.

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