A Broader, Fairer and Smarter Education System in the UK

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Jan 18, 2019
by Lucy Browett and Anna Rawe
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A Broader, Fairer and Smarter Education System in the UK

Nesta’s director of education Joysy John shares her vision for incorporating social and emotional learning into the UK education system Joysy John at Salzburg Global Seminar

Nesta is a UK-based global innovation foundation which identifies the biggest challenges of the age and develops new ideas for human prosperity through research and investment. Joysy John directs its education branch, which launched the Future Ready Fund in October 2018 as an innovation tool to implement social and emotional learning (SEL) skills within UK secondary education.

John told Salzburg Global Seminar, “One of the things that might come out of it is the impact on well-being and mental health, alongside attainment and the ability to work with others, collaborate, communicate and so on.” The £250,000 Fund supports interventions run by select grantees who have demonstrated tangible work towards implementing SEL, be it schools or social enterprises.

“There is a lot of research that already shows, especially from the US, a positive link between having high levels of emotional intelligence, social intelligence, that then leads to better well-being and mental health,” John explained.

John attended Social and Emotional Learning: A Global Synthesis, part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Education for Tomorrow’s World, in December 2018. Education leaders, researchers, and practitioners were brought together from 31 countries to share knowledge and insight on how SEL could impact entire education systems.

John envisions a broader education system to “prepare young people for, not just exams, but to thrive in life and in work.”  In speaking with businesses who hire recent graduates, Johns frequently hears of an SEL skills shortage. “A lack of SEL skills being taught throughout UK secondary education has led to a skills shortage in graduates,” and as John explains, this skills shortage is not only a problem for employers but also “having a profound effect on the mental health of young people.”  

Mental health issues within young British people has garnered much attention in the UK media in recent times. She said, “One in eight young people suffer from some form of mental health challenge. I think if you look at it from a societal perspective, from a business perspective, and from a young person’s perspective, I think there is a demand for more of these skills to be taught in a better way.”

John highlights a regional imbalance between curriculum styles in the UK: Scotland and Wales have increasingly shifted their curriculum towards incorporating life skills and elements of SEL, while England, on balance, pushes a more knowledge-based curriculum with fewer SEL elements. John said, “It’s not only about individuals’ academic performance, it’s a broader set of skills.”

When many people think of “21st-century skills” or skills for the future job market, digital skills are frequently highlighted, but as John explains, in Scotland and Wales at least, 21st-century skills are much broader than that. “Yes, they are looking at digital skills, but they are also looking at things like creativity, problem-solving, collaboration.”

John and Nesta’s main area of focus is “How do we make education broader, fairer and smarter?” The Future Ready Fund is just a part of this, but there are plans for expansion. “It’s the first fund we have launched looking at social and emotional learning, but that is just the first step. Next year we want to launch a bigger fund on creativity.”


The program Social and Emotional Learning: A Global Synthesis is part of Salzburg Global's multi-year series Education for Tomorrow’s World. This year’s program was held in partnership with ETS, Microsoft and Qatar Foundation International, together with additional partners, the British Council, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank.