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Learning Society Consultation Paper

The Fourth Industrial revolution will be, not an era of change – but a change of era.

Great prizes lie ahead. Artificial Intelligence alone could add £10 trillion to the world economy by 2030.

But it will also prove a time of huge challenge for many.

Globally, around 1.2 billion of the world’s 3.5 billion workers will be affected by automation – and seven million jobs will be lost as the 4IR gathers speed over the next five years. The World Economic Forum argues ‘countries and individuals that understand the nature of the current changes and quickly adapt to them will flourish while others will lag behind and lose jobs’.

Creating a lifelong education system that equips Britain will the skills to thrive is critical to our future prosperity, the creation of a more equal country and a digitally literate democracy.

Today, our curriculum is too narrow, with too little emphasis on critical creative skills; school budgets face big cuts; the apprenticeship system is in crisis; the student finance system loads students with debt; the adult education has been destroyed, and no retraining is available for workers who lose their jobs due to automation or technological change. Yet the skills (shortage) in the digital space continues to grow. Digital literacy rates are too low, while worries about the effect of fake news grow, day by day. We cannot go like this.

Our studies of countries like South Korea, France and Singapore show that other nations are not making the same mistakes.

Labour’s National Education Service (NES) will therefore become key to our future success.

The purpose of this paper is to seek your views on some key questions about ensuring that the National Education Service works well for our digital future. The NES’s ambitions are about far more than the world of work.

But, equally, the NES will be key to ensuring Britain is a land of good jobs, for the many not the few. 

It enshrines our commitment to the digital age, to educating people from cradle to grave, from ABC to PhD. As automation, artificial intelligence and the internet of things irreversibly alter the world of work throughout the coming decades, creating as well as destroying jobs, we need to create a learning society that prepares children for a less stable workplace and allows adults to up- and re-skill throughout their lifetimes.

We would especially welcome your views on five key issues:

•  Digital-proofing the school curriculum

•  A technical education system that works for the digital economy

•  Lifelong learning and universal digital literacy

•  Information, advice and guidance

•  Supporting our teaching workforce 

Digital-proofing the school curriculum

Today’s school curriculum does not give children the skills they need to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution. 

We need to double the number of children gaining computing qualifications each year, increasing uptake by half a million children each year, to close the gap – a gap that it is estimated costs the UK £63 billion a year in lost additional GDP[1].

Yet the decision to phase out Information Technology from the national curriculum leaves Computer Science the only ICT subject available at GCSE.

New analysis by Labour of House of Commons Library data shows that, under this Government, the number of children taking any ICT subject to GCSE has fallen by 16% in the last three years. This summer more than 22,000 fewer children took an exam in an ICT subject at a time when we desperately need to ensure our children hold the skills for a digital workplace.

Research from the University of Roehampton[2] shows this change will worsen the UK’s digital skills gap, and hit groups which are already underrepresented: girls, some BAME students and those from lower-income households.

  • At GCSE girls make up only 1 in 5 students sitting a Computer Science exam, despite outperforming boys. At A-level, girls make up just 1 in 10 of entries, with 25 local authorities offering Computer Science but entering no female students at all.
  • A lower proportion of pupil premium students take Computer Science to GCSE or A-level, compared to ICT, with pupil premium students achieving notably poorer results (9.6% pupil premium students vs. 21.9% overall reach A or A* at GCSE) – meaning the discipline of computing is becoming more exclusive as a whole.

Second, the new exclusive focus on end of year exams prioritises knowledge over skills when, in an increasingly digitised economy, employers argue the skills they need are ‘soft’ skills; creativity, leadership, team working, critical reasoning, effective communication and problem-solving. Other countries, such as Japan and Norway, are already successfully moving away from knowledge to competency-based systems, where children learn to learn rather than merely learn to pass exams.

More digital tools are needed in our classrooms. Learning from apps and machines could replace much of the knowledge transfer role that teachers and instructors play, enabling teachers to curate resources that can be found online, guiding children towards themes, and freeing up teachers’ time to provide the things a machine cannot: strong relationships with their students; guidance and advice; developing skills like creativity and leadership.

At the moment digital learning is siloed into a specific IT syllabus. We need to ensure the digital thread weaves across the curriculum as skills such as being able to effectively use reliable digital sources and work with technology becomes an increasingly critical part of academic and professional life.

A technical education system that works for the digital economy 

Many young people want an ‘earn while they learn’ route to higher level skills. Yet, the number of apprenticeships in the digital sector is low – and falling. Since the Coalition entered Government in 2010, starts in ICT apprenticeships have fallen by almost 30%, according to new Labour analysis of House of Commons Library data.

While schools need to be teaching young people those skills that will allow them to adapt to different workplaces throughout their careers, good technical training should allow workers to develop specialist skills which are key to good work, and the ability to earn a decent life. Today’s challenges include:

•  Apprenticeships and technical training designed by employers can limit the transferability of skills. So, apprenticeship schemes must be well regulated and allow progression both within and between organisations. Learners therefore often need a qualification to enable transferability.

•  In the digital economy, where technology is changing fast and where many firms are small, it is hard to ensure that qualification frameworks are cutting edge, and harder to ensure small dynamic firms join industry wide systems.  

•  Apprenticeships are generally focused on young people, when much of the training that workers will need over the coming decades will be mid-career re-training for older workers in the wake of losing a job to technological change.

Lifelong learning and universal digital literacy

The digital revolution will destroy – and create – jobs. But to help workers navigate this change, we will need to revolutionise lifelong learning and set a goal of universal digital literacy.

Automation will affect different groups in different ways. Our analysis shows that the UK may lose five times more working-class jobs than the shutdown of the coal and steel industries combined during the 1980s.

•  Between 2.1 and 2.9 million working-class jobs may go, overwhelmingly in the retail, transportation and routine manufacturing sectors.

•  House of Commons library analysis of OECD figures reveals 1,024,000 jobs are at high risk of automation among the poorest decide of UK workers (those earning less than £7.64 per hour), which equates to 32% of all low paid jobs.

•  People are anxious about the future. 55% of working class voters think automation will make it harder to earn a good life in the years to come[3]. Overwhelmingly, voters believe government should pay for retraining, establishing a ‘right to retrain’ in the case of redundancy.

11.3 million people in Britain also lack basic digital skills[4], with one in ten adults not describing themselves as recent internet users[5]. As a socialist party that believes in equality, we believe in a bold goal: Universal digital literacy for Britain.

As consumer and public services increasingly move online, the issue of digital exclusion is becoming acute, especially among deprived communities.

Programmes are needed that offer to start from the basics: how to turn on a computer, use a desktop, send an email.

Reaching many potential learners will be a challenge. A high number are women and/or have poor English language skills. So digital literacy services might need to be combined with other local services. For example, digital skills training could be brought into women’s centres, early-years centres or developed with ESOL courses.

Providing childcare at these classes could also present an opportunity to include some of the most digitally excluded members of our communities. Libraries have been decimated under austerity. But investing in digital learning resources could enable libraries to become an integral tool for digital inclusion.

Equally the rise of fake news, ‘truth decay’ and challenges to what is called ‘information integrity’ have sparked concern that citizens need to be both digitally literate and critical consumers of online news. This will become more important as Britain’s enemies seek to ‘weaponise’ fake digital content to ‘divide and rule’ the electorate.

Around the world, governments are now acting on this risk:

•  In Sweden and Finland, digital literacy and critical news analysis are being integrated as part of the school curriculum.

•  In Taiwan, the government is using an online tool to engage citizens in a conversation on disinformation

•  In Italy the government has enlisted the help of IT companies to conduct an education campaign about disinformation in 8,000 high schools. 

Investment in digital inclusion also makes financial sense, providing not only huge benefit to the individual learner but a boost in tax receipts and NHS savings that exceeds the cost required – before factoring in the boost to productivity and GDP[6].

This is why Labour’s draft Bill of Digital Rights for the 21st Century would enshrine the right to digital literacy. 

To maintain skill levels in the future, learning may need to be delivered in ‘bitesize chunks’ rather than one long course, and have the option of distance learning, home learning, workplace learning, or learning in community settings.

This should prompt a fundamental rethink in our educational system. Rather than only offering three-year full-time degrees, courses that involve technical skills could be adapted to take place over the course of a career, with institutions supporting individuals to learn in phases over the course of their life, transferring or rolling up academic credits. Workers need to be able to leave and come back into the education system with minimal disruption.

This will require significant change at the institutional level to ensure individuals are able to have truly lifelong relationships with learning institutions.

It will be critical to develop affordable options that allow individuals to learn alongside employment. Business, trade unions, and community organisations will need frameworks to work together to make a reality of the right to learn.

Information, advice and guidance (IAG) for the Digital Age

As the economy becomes more complex, and fast-changing, so we will need to transform the strength and spread of our information and guidance system – both in schools, and for adults. 

To deliver IAG in the future, we will need a more flexible, and more ubiquitous system of advice delivery. Unions for example, are well placed to provide guidance for workers who looking to switch careers. Young people, too, need extra help guidance. Even where young people are entitled to funding and training schemes, currently they are often not taking it up. Career guidance through trade unions could provide mentorship and advice to ensure workers take up potentially useful training to which they are entitled.

Supporting our teaching workforce 

Finally, we know that for Britain’s extraordinary educators, this will be a time of change. So educators will need help in developing new skills, needed to deliver on our vision of a learning society. We will need to ensure that educators are included upskilling programmes and that they have the necessary resources in terms of personnel and equipment to deliver.

We also need to make sure that developing skills for the digital age is not left solely to the education sector: we must build strong partnerships with business and trade unions to ensure that the training curriculums we develop meet the skills needs of the digital economy now and for the future.



We welcome your views on:

1.   What changes are needed to ensure the curriculum for children is fit for the digital workforce of the future?

2.   How do we need to modernise the apprenticeship system for young people and adults to take account of the needs of the digital economy?

3.   To ensure the UK is prepared for automation, what changes are needed to (a) entitlements to lifelong learning (b) the institutions delivering lifelong learning, and (c) the ‘system’ connecting learning institutions together?

4.   What changes to entitlements and organisation of Information, Advice and Guidance are needed for (a) children and (b) adults as jobs for life become less common as the result of automation and growing self-employment in the digital economy?

5.   What reforms are needed to support our workforce of educators as digital tools become increasingly critical to our learning spaces? 

6.   What steps does Britain need to take to deliver universal digital literacy?

We would be grateful for responses by 30th November 2018


Labour’s Bill of Digital Rights


Article 1 —Equality of Treatment Every data subject has the right to fair and equal treatment in the processing of his or her personal data.

Article 2 — Security Every data subject has the right to security and protection of their personal data and information systems. Access requests by government must be for the purpose of combating serious crime and subject to independent authorisation.

Article 3 — Free Expression Every data subject has the right to deploy his or her personal data in pursuit of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, thought and conscience.

Article 4 — Equality of Access Every data subject has the right to access and participate in the digital environment on equal terms. Internet access should be open.

Article 5 — Privacy Every data subject has right to respect for their personal data and information systems and as part of his or her fundamental right to private and family life, home and communications.

Article 6 — Ownership and Control Every data subject is entitled to know the purpose for which personal data is being processed to exercise his or her right to ownership. Government, corporations and data controllers must obtain meaningful consent for use of people’s personal data. Every data subject has the right to own and control his or her personal data. Every data subject is entitled to proportionate share of income or other benefit derived from his or her personal data as part of the right to own.

Article 7 — Algorithms Every data subject has the right to transparent and equal treatment in the processing of his or her personal data by an algorithm or automated system. Every data subject is entitled to meaningful human control in making significant decisions – algorithms and automated systems must not be deployed to make significant decisions.

Article 8 — Participation Every data subject has the right to deploy his or her personal data and information systems to communicate in pursuit of the fundamental right to freedom of association.

Article 9 — Protection Every data subject has the right to safety and protection from harassment and other targeting through use of personal data whether sexual, social or commercial.

Article 10 — Removal Every data subject is entitled to revise and remove their personal data. Compensation Breach of any right in this Bill will entitle the data subject to fair and equitable compensation under existing enforcement provisions. If none apply, the Centre for Data Ethics will establish and administer a compensation scheme to ensure just remedy for any breaches.

Application to Children

The application of these rights to a person less than 18 years of age must be read in conjunction with the rights set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Where an information society service processes data of persons less than 18 years of age it must do so under the age appropriate design code.” 








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