Model for the Future School



Is the learner profile enough for our schools? – David Boyle

“We have not inherited this world from our parents, we have been loaned it from our children.”

(African proverb from Abbott, 1999, p.3)

The proverb above is a paradox. We did indeed inherit an education system from our forebears, and the teaching profession has developed it to the stage we find it today. However, the reality of education, indeed the future of our schools and of society, lies in the realisation of the truth of the latter part. Educational leaders today are not just designing schools for the here and now, but are developing the learning processes and concepts of the ‘future school’ for the children of tomorrow. The society of today was realised by the educators of yesterday. Our collective responsibility is in realising that we are guardians, not of today but of the future. The schools that we build and the education we devise, today will affect the society of tomorrow and that will be our children’s true inheritance.

“The world that our parents knew is not the world we live in today; nor is our world any sure guide to the way our children will live, love and work. We live in an age of unreason when we can no longer assume that what worked well once will work well again, when most assumptions can legitimately be challenged.” (Handy, 1991, p.203)

The term ‘future school’ is used to describe a school which has the future in mind when it is planning today for tomorrow i.e. it is a ‘futures thinking school’ that strives to develop a strategic perspective on the future (Davies and Ellison, 1999, p.4-18). This paper questions whether a learner profile is sufficient to develop an all encompassing educational process for the future school. It also aims to highlight some of the key issues relating to the development of the future schools movement, and propose a possible model for the future school to encourage schools to engage in a debate as to what challenges they may need to face in the future.

Change is inevitable as we live in a society where ‘the pace of change is ever increasing’, producing often chaotic conditions forming the basis of a ‘culture for change’ (Fullan, 2001, preface ix-xiii). School’s need to anticipate school development before its decline, to ensure continued growth and momentum as illustrated in the Sigmoid Curve (Handy, 1994, p.49-64) in order to be a ‘moving’ school (Rozenholtz, 1989 in Hopkins et al, 1994). Learning organisations need to embrace a culture of learning and empowerment aimed at understanding the learning needs of all members of its community emphasising the ideals of lifelong learning within the culture of an ‘information age and a knowledge society’ (Hargreaves, 2002, Online).

“Any changes undertaken of a system as complex as the education system must be relevant to tomorrow’s world and require a sense of the kind of society we wish to have thirty to fifty years from now. If we hope to institute planned changes for the year 2020, we must begin to define those changes today.” (Dalin and Rust, 1996, p.5)

Society is driven by technological developments, and the greater communication which has arisen over a relatively short period of time has meant that society and its schools have had to adapt rapidly to these changes. The needs of the learner of the future are ever changing and the current model of education, and how it meets the needs of the future society, school and learner, should be re-evaluated to ensure that it meets the needs of the future global community. The challenge is how we react and change to meet this paradigm shift with its new needs, and ensure we repay our debt to our parents as well as ensure a future for our children.

When Microsoft was founded in 1975, Gates and Allen famously stated their key aim and goal was the vision of “a computer on every desk and in every home…” At the time this goal was ridiculed. Whatever people think about Microsoft today, good or bad, both Gates and Allen’s vision of the impact of computers was profound. What would be the position of technology in our schools today had educational planners seen the significance of their statement and reacted to it? Is it now time for educationalists to ask fundamental questions about our vision of the future and its impact on our schools? Questions such as:

What type of society/school/vision do we want to create?

What are the key economic, demographic and social trends affecting today’s society that will shape the future society, learning environment and the future school?

What in our current set up needs to be updated, is surplus to requirements or is redundant in the future school?

What 21st Century practices already exist in schools around the world?

Are these practices appropriate to the local setting?

How do we adapt existing buildings and infrastructure to meet the needs of the future?

What will the learner of the future need that is not catered for in existing structures?

Are there more flexible structures that would better meet learner needs?

What do we want our schools to achieve in the future?

Where do we want to be in 20-30 years?

Why do we want that?

How will we make it so?

In order to develop schools that cater for the needs of this new learner, schools have turned towards learner profiling. However this paper argues that the learner profile can be a limiting factor if considered alone. Schools need to create a vision of the needs of society as well as the needs of the learner, and develop a learning environment which will serve those needs. Traditionally, schools have avoided this type of visionary thinking due to the unpredictable nature of the future and pressure to serve only their existing client group. The future of our schools is being planned today, the kind of society we want for the future will be affected by the schools of tomorrow. The type of education that they provide, and the way it is implemented, is still to be decided. The challenge for education and society is to predict the issues that will affect tomorrow and propose solutions before they become tomorrow’s problems.

A learning organisation is “an organisation that is continually expanding its capacity to create the future” (Senge, 1990, p.14). When considering future possibilities it helps to consider the key trends that exist in the society of today (e.g. changes to: the global society; business; use of technology; nature of family and community; young people’s culture; and to school themselves). “The most reliable way to anticipate what the future will be like is to observe the trend lines in the present.” (Beare, 2001, p.99) It is important to understand how these trends are formed and how they might impact the future of society and, in particular, its schools. Davies and Ellison suggest that trends enable schools to develop a ‘credible futures perspective’. Their model ‘Reconceptualised Model of School Planning’ places this futures perspective at the heart of a strategic planning process (see figure 1).

The following is a paper published in ‘ESF Educational Matters’ in Spring 2007, which is based on my dissertation in Educational Management with the University of Leicester, UK.

The topic of the dissertation was

‘Future Society, Future school and Future Learners - Towards a Global Model for the Future School’.

The school may develop more than one strategy or scenario at a time. The duration of which may be short term (1-3 years) strategic or medium term (3-5 years) or long term futures thinking (over 5 years ahead).

Both Strategic Intent and Futures Perspective allow schools to set their activity in a longer term framework within a culture of rapid change.

Futures Perspective

(Longer term fundamental shifts in society that provide a futures perspective, based on key trends, and developments, vision and aims building towards a strategic intent)

Strategic Intent (planning for less predictable, rapid change )

Strategic Planning (planning for definable, predictable change)

Medium term focus on key priorities on core activities to reach strategic objectives

Operational Target Setting

(The setting of short term objectives, tasks, timings, indicators of success, resource requirements and those responsible for implementation aimed at strategy fulfilment)

(A synthesis of the work of:

Stoll and Fink, 1995, p.15, MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed, 1997, p.7, Davies and Ellison, 1997, p.79-93, Davies and West-Burnham, p.222 and 1999, p.4-18)

Figure 2 - A Synthesis of the Characteristics of Effective Schools and School Leadership

Other models have explored society’s needs and a global context for education e.g. Four Dimensions of Global Education (Selby, 2000), ‘OCED Schooling Scenarios’ (OECD/CERI, 2001) and ‘A curriculum for Global Citizenship’ (Oxfam, 1997 in Hicks 2003). They discuss a future for education where the concept of ‘intercultural connectedness’, links societies by, and through, issues such as citizenship, politics and diplomacy, economics, world development, conflict avoidance and/or resolution, peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability. This ‘glocal’ view links the needs of both global and local communities of learners living ‘effectively and responsibly’ to meet the needs of all. Their models explore the notion that in a rapidly changing society no future is certain and that a variety of possible alternate outcomes are possible. Some are more preferable than others but sometimes the preferred option is neither probable nor possible. The models help the user to develop the options available and select the route that suits the learner and society’s needs best.

Lastly in Caldwell and Spinks’ model ‘A Vision for Schooling in the Knowledge Society Illustrated in a Gestalt’ (1998, p.12) where they illustrate a view of schools that they are strongest when each of their parts works to the benefit of the whole. It is seen not as a final product but as a starting point from which the future will evolve.

The model for the future school (Figure 3), like the model proposed by Caldwell and Spinks, is in the form of a gestalt where it is ‘a perceived organized whole that is more than the sum of its parts’. It is presented in the form of a wheel and its momentum keeps schools ‘moving’ in a futures direction. It proposes that two overarching forces, change and development, exist. A failure to recognize these forces leads to stagnation. Inside the outer ring are ten themes that together, under the influence of change and development, will drive the future school. At the centre is a futures thinking school culture that is learner driven for a lifelong learner. This learner is the product of the learning society, learning environment and the learner profile and together they form the future school.

This paper is written at a time where there is a culture of rapid change and the future is unpredictable and unavoidable. Tomorrow’s future will soon become today’s reality and there is a need to embrace change within a planning and learning process that is futures thinking and sustainable. Society is driven by market forces and its citizens’ demands for a better way of life, a shared vision of the future they would like to live in and leave for future generations. Future schools are strategically planned with a strategic intent and vision of the future, technologically advanced with integrated learning networks that engage the learner in the learning process. Surrounding the simplified ‘wheel’ model are profiles for the three key areas for development: The Learning Society, The Learning Environment and The Learner Profile. Schools could use these profiles to spark debate and discussion about the future.

The Learning Society

Society recognises the need for schools to plan for a desirable future. In order to achieve this it needs to become a learning society. Society has needs and values that need to be met in order to function effectively. The future school is a mechanism through which this vision and these values can be shared with learners.

The Learning Environment

The learning environment of the school of the future is not restricted by the traditional boundaries of a school building. The environment is technologically rich and independent learners engage with others globally via connected learning communities. Teacher facilitators and learners interact in a shared enquiry based learning process that is designed to meet the needs of individual learners. The future school is an effective school with high standards and expectations and is designed with flexibility in mind. It can alter itself depending on learning needs in order to meet future demands.  

The Learner Profile

The learner of the future school is a lifelong learner. They possess a skills base that enables them to adapt to future demands by engaging in a learning process that equips them to meet the needs of a learning society. They are able to respect the values of others, live and function in a multicultural society and understand the need for intercultural understanding. They are responsible citizens who contribute to the greater good of the wider community/society with both local and global implications. The future learner is willing to learn from, and teach, others.

This paper has shown that without some futures thinking schools are lost in the past. The future school is dynamically linked to the needs of the learner and their learning environment and the learning society and that this relationship should be reflected in the design for a model for the future school.

The model is not seen as an end solution but rather a vehicle to engage and encourage debate in order to allow the future school to evolve. Far too often in education, we seek a complete solution to the learning journey only to find that the journey itself is a process that is changing and never complete. Schools also need to consider the points raised within their own contexts as often local concerns often affect the direction organisations take. The solution is to engage in the process and enjoy the journey, as it is a learning journey.

It is clear that there is much to be discussed and considered when developing the future school and learning environment.

“What will be taught and learned; how it will be taught and learned; who will make use of the schooling; and the position of the school in society – all this will change greatly during the ensuing decades. Indeed, no other institution faces challenges as radical as those that will transform the school.” Drucker, 1993, p.209 in Davies and Ellison, 1999, p.20)

Our responsibility as guardians of the future will have a profound effect on the society of tomorrow, and we must ensure we leave a legacy worth inheriting to the learners of the future.


1.Abbott, J. (1999) The Child is Father of the Man – How Humans Learn and Why, The 21st Century Learning Initiative, Letchworth, UK.

2.Beare, H. (2001) Creating the Future School, Routledge Farmer, London, UK.

3.Caldwell, B. J. and Spinks, J. M. (1998) Beyond the Self-Managing School, Falmer Press, London, UK.

4.Carter, D. (2002) The Role of Teachers in the School of the Future, Focus Paper presented at the Technology Colleges Trust 2002 Online Conference ‘Vision 2020’, (, Online accessed Sept 19, 2004.

5.Chase, A-M., Peterson, B., Dawes, I. and Ellul R. (2002) The Future Learner, Focus Paper 9 presented at the Technology Colleges Trust 2002 Online Conference ‘Vision 2020’, (, Online accessed Aug 19, 2004.

6.Dalin, P. and Rust, V. (1996) Towards Schooling for the Twenty-First Century, Cassell, London, UK.

7.Davies, B. and Ellison, L. (1999) Strategic Direction and Development of the School, Routledge, London, UK.

8.Davies, B. and Ellison, L. (1997) School Leadership for the 21st Century, Routledge, London, UK.

9.Davies, B. and West-Burnham, J. (1997) Reengineering & Total Quality in Schools, Financial Times/Pitman Publishing, London, UK.

10.Fullan, (2001) Leading in a Culture of Change, Jossey Bass Wiley, San Francisco, USA.

11.Handy, C. (1991) The Age of Unreason, Arrow Books, London, UK.

12.Handy, C. (1994) The Empty Raincoat, Random House Books, London, UK.

13.Hargreaves, A. (2002) Teaching in the Knowledge Society, Vision 2020 Online Conference 2002, Futures Thinking Now (Keynote Papers), The Technology Colleges Trust ( Online accessed Sept 11,  2004.

14.Hicks, D. (2003) “Thirty Years of Global Education: a Reminder of Key Principles and Precedents”, in Educational Review, Vol.55, No.3.

15.Hoffer, E. (1973) Reflections on the Human Condition, Harper and Row, New York, USA

16.Hopkins, D., Ainscow, M. and West, M. (1994) School Improvement in an Era of Change, Cassell, London, UK.

17.MacGilchrist, B., Myers, K. and Reed, J. (1997) The Intelligent School, Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd, London, UK.

18.OECD/CERI. (2001) Schooling For Tomorrow, What Schools for the Future?, OECD Publications, Paris, France.

19.OECD/CERI. (2001) CERI - The OECD Schooling Scenarios in Brief, OECD website, (,2340,en_2649_34521_2078922_1_1_1_1,00.html), Online accessed Dec 23, 2004.

  1. 20.  Selby, D. (2000) Global Education as Transformative Education, Published on the Global Citizens for Change

        Website,, Online accessed Nov 7, 2004.

21.Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization, Random House, London, UK.

22.Stoll, L. and Fink, D. (1995) Changing Our Schools, Open University Press, Buckingham, UK.

23.Townsend, T., Clarke, P. and Ainscow, M. (1999) Third Millennium Schools, A World of Difference in Effectiveness and Improvement, Swets & Zeitlinger, Lisse, Holland.

24.Walsh, K. (2002) Leading and Motivating Staff in Creating the Future School, Focus Paper presented at the Technology Colleges Trust 2002 Online Conference ‘Vision 2020’, (, Online accessed Sept 19, 2004.

The ideas and concepts of the ‘future school’ discussed here have a wider context within the ‘future schools movement’ around the world. Key contributors to the international debate include: The Technology Colleges Trust (now called The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) - Vision 2020 and Futures Vision Projects (UK) -; The National College for School Leadership - Futuresight Project (UK) -; The 21st Century Learning Initiative

(UK) -; The International Centre for Educational Change (CAN) -; The Schools of the Future Project (AUS) led by Brian Caldwell; IMEC Schoolyear 2020 (INT) – See Dalin and Rust (1996); The OECD ‘Schooling For Tomorrow Project

(INT) -; New Horizons for Learning -; Oxfam ‘The Curriculum for Global Citizenship’ - This paper acknowledges their influence and impact on current ‘futures’ thinking. Many of the areas discussed in

the model were tested and debated via a lengthy research project conducted with staff from West Island School and The English Schools Foundation. Their contributions were invaluable and the author thanks them for their time and interest in the study.

David Boyle was a teacher at West Island School, Hong Kong when this paper was written.

Parts of this paper are based upon a dissertation submitted in part fulfilment of an MBA in

Educational Management with the University of Leicester, UK. He graduated in January 2007.

He was Faculty Leader: Creative and Expressive Arts at

The Alice Smith School, Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia. from 2007 to 2011

He has recently returned to the UK to seek a position in senior leadership.

He can be contacted by email at:


(Davies and Ellison, 1997, p.79-93 and 1999, p.4-18)

Figure 1 - A Summary of the ‘Reconceptualised Model of School Planning’

It is clear that the strategy of focusing on short and medium term goals without some form of longer term thinking could in fact leave schools isolated in a changing world. Schools have become insular, complacent about their monopoly market and outdated in terms of provision and structure. The changing needs of society mean that schools will need to adapt to those needs and provide for them. Failure to do so will result in society creating alternatives to educational provision. This is not some far off futuristic nightmare but is fast becoming today’s reality. Educational managers must develop the capability to adapt, to change the way they think and lead, and if required develop new skills and approaches to enable learning to take place, and meet society’s needs ensuring a sustainable and strategically planned future.

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Much of the literature written on the subject of future schools focuses on two key areas; learning environment and learner. The work of Dalin and Rust (1996), Townsend et al (1999), Carter (2002), Chase et al (2002) and Walsh (2002) all describe a learning environment designed to meet the challenges and changes within society and, as a result of this, also meet the needs of its learners. The curriculum of the future will not be driven by content but by the goals of education which will be based on the general values that society aspires to. The challenge will be to design a flexible curriculum to meet the individual needs of the learner and these aspirations. It will be more streamlined and less overloaded. Teachers acting as facilitators of learning will work collaboratively with students to explore their individual learning needs. Townsend et al describe this as a move from second millennium schools to more forward thinking third millennium schools which will make them uniquely prepared for the future.

The learning environment of the future will not be defined by the four walls of a room. Students may spend time at school but equally they may spend time in the community and the working world, or perhaps they will travel as part of the learning experience. The school of the future may not be defined by a physical location but by the interaction/communication between teacher/student within society. How learning takes place will be fundamentally different from our current notions of schools. Schools will need to evolve new models that promote the very act of learning. “The classroom of the future has no walls. It is without limits, and like knowledge, it has no boundaries.” (Dalin and Rust, 1996, p.146)

Chase et al and Carter describe a flexible space that meets the individual learner’s needs, styles and modes of learning and therefore would meet the needs of the future society. The learner would not be disadvantaged by their location, environment or social status but would have equal access to a resource rich learning environment afforded to all.

Teachers will have to adapt to this new learning environment and develop new skills. Teachers will create interactive multimedia resources that are updated regularly, downloadable and fully integrated with technology, with hyperlinks to pre-determined web sites and that engage the learner in enquiry based critical thinking tasks. Many of the activities will challenge students beyond the lesson by setting appropriate extension tasks, encouraging learners to develop the learning in self selected directions. Schools will recognise the need for teachers to have an entitlement to quality systems and appropriate professional development training to facilitate their teaching. Learning access and learning interchange uses powerful networked wireless systems and takes place in the classroom, around the school, at home but is also globally linked via connected learning communities. Teachers will no longer create only for themselves but will actively seek to share with others globally, and may even use pre-prepared online packages. Learning will no longer be focused on marks and grades but teachers will assess learning outcomes and set targets aimed at advancing the learning process via online assessment for learning systems. Records of student performance in all subjects will be accessible to all teachers enabling a full understanding of the learner’s needs.

Walsh suggests that as learning environments change, the management structures of the school will also need to be adapted to meet the new challenges. There will be a move away from hierarchical leadership towards a more collaborative style of management. Schools may adopt flatter management structures with shared responsibility by all staff, allowing greater flexibility and a greater number of teaching assistants. There will be no separation of the pastoral and academic structures. Individual Education Plans enable teachers to identify and meet the needs of learners. As teachers no longer spend time on separation of roles they have more preparation and student contact time. Registration by teachers is abandoned as a waste of teacher time in favour of personal tutoring and target setting. Admin staff will be employed to do admin roles. The structure of the school day will change to enable greater flexibility of timing and scheduling. Lessons may be taught to groups of different sizes and ages. Traditional subject boundaries will merge and topics taught will be based upon the skills of the teacher and the students. School development plans will be shared and have clear, open, flexible and sustainable futures thinking vision that acknowledges the needs of learners and of society.

Walsh points out the biggest obstacle to schools becoming future orientated is that staff, parents and the community are used to traditional models of education. We have to dispense with old and outdated models and “… throw the rule book away.” (Hawkett in Walsh, 2002) Change is necessary, a requirement and unavoidable.

The learners of the future are flexible, adaptable, ‘highly skilled, highly knowledgeable, independent and interactive, thinkers’ who can transfer skills to new learning and working opportunities as they arise. The learner of the future is not a lone thinker but one who communicates and engages with others through collaboration and community interaction to develop things for the greater good of society as a whole and that this is the responsibility of all in society. Who is this future learner? We all are. The society of tomorrow will be a society of life-long learners. Teachers, students, parents, the whole community are all learners, participating in the learning society, a global community. We need to equip and develop our schools, teachers, learning environments and learners to enable learning to take place effectively, as only lifelong learners will be flexible and adaptable enough to engage with the future.

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer, 1973, p.32)

“So the future learner continues through endless corridors of learning opportunities, because, of course, lifelong learning is a never ending journey from the cradle to the grave.” (Chase et al, 2002, Online)

Given the complex nature of the problem facing schools today in determining the future needs of learners and society and the education they should provide, it is useful to establish a model upon which debate and discussion can ensue. Models have been used by a variety of educationalists to provide clarity to their thinking and to enable interested parties to explore relevance to their own school’s situation e.g. the effective schools movement of the nineties, lead by Stoll and Fink et al, helped schools build an understanding of positive learning environments. See figure 2 for a summary of their findings.