Education reform

Read our summary report from the 2022 'Future of Education' conference.

Education is the most powerful policy lever a government has at its disposal to improve society, by providing future skills for the economy, offering fulfilling job opportunities for all young people and strengthening engagement with wider society. 

The Royal Society’s aim is to promote education as a policy priority area for all political parties, including a call for cross-party support for a national review of secondary education and a long-term commitment to reform across the system.

Education should provide the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects to 18, and to develop valuable transferable skills such as communication, problem solving, and teamwork. To achieve this policymakers need to consider how to bring about a confident and valued teaching workforce to provide the the knowledge and skills students need. These skills include understanding scientific methodology, data literacy and the curating of sources of information . 

As part of its activity around the Future of Education, the Society is seeking all political parties to consider within their future plans, a commitment to a major review of secondary and post-16 education in England. This review should consider: 

  1. The role of science and mathematics as part of an education for economic growth, ensuring that learning provides solid foundations for the UK to attain the ambition of being a global science superpower
  2. Equipping all young people with the foundational skills and knowledge to engage confidently and critically with the societal impact of scientific developments
  3. How to ensure that all young people acquire the knowledge and skills to pursue careers in vital emerging areas, including net-zero, sustainability and AI
  4. How to ensure greater opportunity for young people from underrepresented groups to succeed in STEM
  5. How to meet and retain the required number of well-qualified teachers, especially in shortage subjects, through boosting the status and attractiveness of the profession and by making a commitment to high-quality professional development.

What has the Royal Society done?

Envision: leading thinkers’ views on the need for reform

In 2022, the Society published a series of think pieces called ‘Envision’ which brings together thought leaders to discuss what the UK education system should look like in order to prepare students to flourish in a changing world of work in the 21st century.

Future of Education conference

In June 2022, the Society held a large stakeholder conference to gather views from the sector on which priorities political parties should prioritise ahead of the next election. A summary paper of the conference was produced, including recommendations on the teaching workforce, fairness, curriculum and assessment.

Vision for science, mathematics and computing education

The Royal Society’s ‘Vision for science, mathematics and computing education’, published in 2014, set out proposals to ensure that education enables people to make informed choices, and become empowered to shape scientific and technological developments.

Curriculum breadth and employment outcomes

Commissioned research by the Royal Society using Longitudinal Education Outcomes data found that pupils who had more diversity in their A level subject choices saw a slight boost to their earnings in their mid-20s, a trend that is expected to continue throughout their careers.

Parental views on broadening education

The Society also commissioned a survey of parents on their views of broadening education, with over half of parents now supportive of their children studying a broader range of subjects after the pandemic. Phase 1 and Phase 2 of this work are available to access.

International case studies

As well as a mapping of the current post-16 qualification mix and subject choice of students in England, the Royal Society commissioned a series of international case studies, which look at how curriculum reform has been managed in Sweden, Belarus, Ireland, Mauritius, Hong Kong and Spain and the drivers behind these reforms.