Festival of Education is part of a wider commitment from Sheffield Hallam to building stronger communities

Education has been one of the great transformations of our time. Almost all of our grandparents were under-educated: most children left school at fourteen, and few accessed education after they left.

By Sir Chris Husbands
Monday, 10 June, 2019, 14:19
Sheffield Hallam University

It’s just forty-five years since the school leaving age was raised to sixteen: we now expect all young people to participate in education or training until they are eighteen. Almost two in five eighteen-year-olds move on to higher education.

And what has been true in England has been true around the world: a massive shift to education, which has meant, for example, massive increases in literacy levels in every country in the world and the explosive growth of higher education globally.

That UK figure of two in five eighteen-year-olds in higher education may seem high by historical standards but it is lower than in China, where participation in HE this year hit 47 per cent, lower than the United States, where the figure sits at 55 per cent, and way behind South Korea where the figure is over 75 per cent.

We have been living through an education revolution – and one which is not complete.

There is much, much more to be done, on lifelong learning, on adult learning, on removing barriers to participation in education, on eradicating inequities in the school system, on early years education. But there’s something else too: what’s the impact of education not just on those who gain from it, but beyond, on communities, on places, on wider society.

These issues and more will be the focus of Sheffield Hallam’s Festival of Education which takes place on June 14 and 15 . It’s not a conference: it’s a festival, a celebration of education and ideas about education, open to all. It will bring together over a hundred speakers, groups and organisations from local, regional, national and  international education systems - with hundreds of teachers, early years practitioners, head-teachers, education policy makers, business leaders and politicians expected to attend, and, we  hope, members of the wider public who are simply interested in the big questions in education.

Our headline speakers include Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE, and former education secretaries Baroness Estelle Morris and Lord David Blunkett. They will be joined by Shadow Early Years Minister Tracy Brabin MP, the former Schools Commissioner for London, Sir Tim Brighouse, former Coalition Schools Minister, David Laws, and Amatey Doku, deputy president at the National Union of Students.

Find out more about the festival on our dedicated website: www.hallamedfest.org.uk.

The Hallam Festival of Education is part of a wider commitment from Sheffield Hallam to  building stronger communities – to think hard about the impact we have on people’s lives through our research and our teaching.

A lot of our work is geared to engaging with communities and community agencies. Some of that is global in reach. Our researchers in cyber-security have recently developed a powerful app for the World Health Organisation which enables the WHO to check in real time on the safety of every members of staff in field forces, some of them in highly vulnerable locations around the world. Some is future focused. My colleague Aimee Ambrose, whose work explores attitudes to energy generation and consumption, is working with the International Energy Agency to engage consumers around the world in understanding the environmental consequences of everyday energy consumption choices.

Some of our work is more regional. A team of our academics are working closely with the NHS, local authorities and housing associations to develop a planning tool to help predict and plan future housing and care provision for an increasingly elderly society.

The litmus test for education is the difference it makes not just to individual lives – which we know a lot about – but to communities, regions, and to the world more generally. We all know that we face some tough  questions as a society.

This week, through our focus on the university’s role in building stronger communities we are highlighting that, and on Friday and Saturday at the Hallam Festival of Education we look forward to debating more generally how we can maximize the impact of education as a force for the common good.