Horizon Scanning: Identifying Future Education Trends

Table of Contents

    What is Horizon Scanning & How can it help Identify Future Education Trends?

    What if something disruptive happens and you don’t notice? A fundamental shift that affects the education system and as a school leader you are not ready to respond to it. This is where a process known as Horizon Scanning comes in. We are not talking about the fads that come and go in education. We need collectively to be aware of what is coming over the hill. This could be national, but it is equally important on a local level. If as a leadership team or a regional headteacher group, we can get some cohesive thoughts about future education trends we can make better plans to address them.

    Horizon scanning for future education trends is not easy to do but using a template can help. The one I like, that is relevant to apply to education is the TIDES model.

    The TIDES Model of Horizon Scanning

    • The TIDES model consists of five key disruptors that one should pay attention to: Technology, Institutional change, Demographics, Environment, and Shifting societal values.
    • Paying attention to these disruptors and asking the right questions can help in future-proofing both your career as a school leader or your school’s future success.


    • Technology is rapidly advancing, with breakthroughs such as memory transplants between snails and medical drone flights in Amsterdam.
    • AI is going to impact education in ways we maybe cannot foresee, but we know it will accelerate existing trends.

    Institutional Change

    • Institutions need to change in response to the changing world, as demonstrated by the unconventional business models of companies like Facebook and Uber.


    • Demographic shifts, such as the ageing of the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation and the shift of economic power to the East, will have a significant impact on the global economy.
    • This affects our interactions with parents and needs/demands(?) of younger teachers.


    • The environment is a key factor in successful horizon scanning, particularly with the ongoing debate on climate change and its consequences.
    • It is a time for schools to make decisions about the route they want to go – will you replace diesel mini-buses with electric ones?

    Shifting Societal Values

    • Societal values play a crucial role in driving behaviour and need to be considered in horizon scanning to understand and decode behaviour.
    • It’s important to keep shifting societal values in mind when engaged in horizon scanning.
    • We haven’t as a society come to terms with the impact of the pandemic on education and face a weak and uncertain government that cannot provide leadership. Will we value face-to-face education over virtual in the next decade?

    SWOT Analyses of Future Education Trends

    A SWOT analysis is a technique used to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for a specific project or your overall business plan. It’s used for strategic planning and to stay ahead of market trends. Some of the emerging trends that are likely to affect primary and secondary education in the UK in the next few years are:

    Digital Responsibility

    This trend is not new but is accelerating at an exponential pace. There is an ever-increasing need for students to learn how to use digital technologies in a safe, ethical, and responsible way. It includes topics such as online safety, cyberbullying, digital citizenship, data privacy, and digital literacy. AI has brought copyright to the fore.

    • Strengths: This trend can help students develop critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills, as well as foster a positive digital culture and identity. It can also prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the digital age
    • Weaknesses: This trend can pose some challenges for teachers, who may need to update their digital skills and knowledge, as well as deal with the potential risks and harms of online platforms and tools. It can also require more investment in digital infrastructure and resources as well as training. This may be outsourced as tech increases in complexity
    • Opportunities: This trend can offer some opportunities for innovation and creativity in teaching and learning, such as using gamification, virtual reality, or artificial intelligence. It can also enable more personalized and flexible learning pathways for students, as well as more collaboration and engagement with local and global communities
    • Threats: This trend can face some threats from the lack of consistent and coherent policies and standards for digital education, as well as the digital divide and inequality among students and schools. It can also encounter some resistance or scepticism from parents, students, or teachers who may prefer more traditional or offline methods of education

    Computational Thinking

    This trend refers to the ability to solve problems and design systems using the principles and practices of computer science. It includes topics such as algorithms, data structures, artificial intelligence, abstraction, decomposition, and large language models.

    • Strengths: This trend can help students develop logical, analytical, and creative thinking skills, as well as enhance their mathematical and scientific literacy. It can also prepare students for the future workforce and economy, where computational skills will be in high demand
    • Weaknesses: This trend can pose some challenges for teachers, who may need to acquire new pedagogical and content knowledge, as well as integrate computational thinking across the curriculum. It can also require more support and guidance for students, especially those who may struggle with or lose interest in computational thinking
    • Opportunities: This trend can offer some opportunities for interdisciplinary and project-based learning, where students can apply computational thinking to real-world problems and contexts. It can also enable more diversity and inclusion in computer science, by exposing more students from different backgrounds and abilities to the field
    • Threats: This trend can face some threats from the lack of adequate and appropriate assessment and evaluation methods for computational thinking, as well as the shortage of qualified and trained teachers and mentors. It can also encounter some competition or conflict with other subjects or priorities in the curriculum, such as literacy, numeracy, or arts

    Collaborative classrooms

    This trend refers to the shift from teacher-centred to student-centred learning environments, where students work together in groups or teams to achieve common goals and outcomes. It includes topics such as cooperative learning, peer feedback, social and emotional learning, and flipped learning – this is happening but will accelerate.

    • Strengths: This trend can help students develop social, emotional, and interpersonal skills, as well as foster a sense of belonging and community. It can also improve students’ motivation, engagement, and achievement, by allowing them to have more voice and choice in their learning
    • Weaknesses: This trend can pose some challenges for teachers, who may need to adopt new roles and strategies, such as facilitator, coach, or mediator, as well as manage the dynamics and diversity of student groups. It can also require more time and effort for planning, organizing, and monitoring collaborative activities
    • Opportunities: This trend can offer some opportunities for differentiation and personalization of learning, where students can work at their own pace and level, as well as pursue their own interests and passions. It can also enable more authentic and meaningful learning, where students can connect with real audiences and purposes
    • Threats: This trend can face some threats from the lack of clear and consistent expectations and criteria for collaboration, as well as the potential for conflict, confusion, or free-riding among students. It can also encounter some barriers or limitations in the physical or digital space and resources available for collaboration

    Life skills and workforce preparation

    This trend refers to the need for students to learn the skills and competencies that will help them succeed in life and work in the 21st century. It includes topics such as creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, problem-solving, self-management, and resilience

    • Strengths: This trend can help students develop a growth mindset, a positive attitude, and a lifelong learning habit, as well as adapt to the changing and uncertain world. It can also prepare students for future careers and opportunities, where life skills and workforce preparation will be essential
    • Weaknesses: This trend can pose some challenges for teachers, who may need to balance the teaching of content and skills, as well as assess and measure the development of skills. It can also require more collaboration and alignment with employers, industry, and community partners, to ensure the relevance and currency of skills
    • Opportunities: This trend can offer some opportunities for experiential and contextualized learning, where students can learn by doing, reflecting, and applying skills in real-life situations and scenarios. It can also enable more career exploration and guidance, where students can discover and pursue their aspirations and goals
    • Threats: This trend can face some threats from the lack of consensus and clarity on the definition and framework of life skills and workforce preparation, as well as the gap between the supply and demand of skills in the labour market. It can also encounter some resistance or inertia from the traditional or academic culture and values of education

    Teacher/Teaching Assistant Recruitment

    The loss of older more experienced teachers as well as recruitment problems is the single biggest systemic issue facing education today. A wider shift to flexible working that schools haven’t succeded in finding a way to address has turnded a once parent friendly career into a inflexible dinosaur of an industry. Can we change things before it’s too late? (Dum dum der!).

    Here is a SWOT analysis on changing teacher demographics.



    • A more diverse teaching workforce can face challenges such as discrimination, bias, isolation, or lack of support from colleagues, administrators, or parents
    • A more diverse teaching workforce can require more resources and training to address the needs and expectations of different groups of students and teachers
    • A more diverse teaching workforce can create conflicts or misunderstandings due to cultural, linguistic, or ideological differences among teachers or between teachers and students


    • A more diverse teaching workforce can create opportunities for cross-cultural learning, collaboration, and innovation among teachers and students
    • A more diverse teaching workforce can increase the demand and supply of culturally responsive and relevant curricula, pedagogy, and assessment
    • A more diverse teaching workforce can enhance the reputation and competitiveness of the education system and society at large


    • A more diverse teaching workforce can face threats from external factors such as political, economic, or social changes that may affect the recruitment, retention, or development of teachers from different backgrounds
    • A more diverse teaching workforce can face threats from internal factors such as resistance, complacency, or inertia that may hinder the implementation or evaluation of diversity initiatives or policies
    • A more diverse teaching workforce can face threats from competing or conflicting interests or agendas among different stakeholders or groups involved in the education system, especially with the rise of powerful multi-academy trusts
    Horizon Scanning: Identifying Future Education Trends

    Future Trends for SEN in Schools

    Some of the international trends in supporting neurodivergent children in education that are currently being discussed are:

    • The need for more awareness and recognition of neurodiversity and neurodivergence, and the challenges and benefits that they bring to learning and teaching. This includes promoting a positive and inclusive culture, challenging stigma and discrimination, and highlighting the strengths and contributions of neurodivergent individuals
    • An identified need for more flexible and personalised learning environments and pathways, that cater to the unique needs, preferences, and interests of neurodivergent learners. This includes providing a range of options and choices, allowing for different modes and paces of learning, and adapting the curriculum and assessment to suit the learners’ goals and abilities
    • A need for more collaboration and co-production among stakeholders, such as educators, parents, students, and experts, to ensure that the support and provision for neurodivergent learners are relevant, effective, and responsive. This includes improving the communication, information, and guidance available, as well as the transparency and accountability of the system
    • As always more investment and innovation in the resources and infrastructure that support neurodivergent learners, such as digital technologies, special schools, and alternative provision. This includes ensuring that the resources and infrastructure are accessible, affordable, and appropriate, as well as exploring new ways of enhancing and enriching the learning experience

    These exciting trends have the potential to greatly influence education in the UK and beyond. They serve as a source of inspiration and knowledge for policymakers and educators alike, guiding the creation and adoption of policies and practices aimed at enhancing the identification, assessment, and support of neurodivergent learners. If we are being optimistic these trends should pave the way for greater inclusivity and improved outcomes for these learners.

    A SWOT Analysis of the SEND Improvement Plan

    The government has published a SEND and AP improvement plan that outlines its vision and actions to reform the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and alternative provision (AP) education systems in the UK. The plan aims to improve the identification, assessment, and provision of support for children and young people with SEND as well as increase the level of inclusion and an improvement to educational outcomes. The plan also confirms investment in training, resources, and infrastructure, such as building 33 new special free schools.

    The impact of the SEND and AP improvement plan on inclusion in schools could vary depending on how the plan is implemented and evaluated I haven’t done a strengths and weaknesses analysis of the plan. However, some possible opportunities and threats are:

    • Opportunities:
      • The plan could improve the quality and consistency of support for children and young people with SEND and AP across the country, by introducing national standards, local partnerships, and regional expert partnerships. This could reduce the variation and fragmentation in the current system and ensure that more children and young people receive the right support, in the right place, at the right time
      • The plan could increase the inclusion and participation of children and young people with SEND and AP in mainstream education, by promoting a culture of high expectations, early intervention, and co-production. This could enable more children and young people to access the curriculum, achieve their potential, and transition to adulthood
      • The plan could enhance the skills and confidence of teachers and other professionals who work with children and young people with SEND and AP, by investing in training, resources, and infrastructure. This could improve the quality of teaching and learning, as well as the wellbeing and retention of staff
      • The plan could empower and involve children, young people, and their families in the decision-making and delivery of support, by improving the information, advice, and guidance available, as well as the transparency and accountability of the system. This could increase the satisfaction and trust of families, as well as the voice and choice of children and young people
    • Threats:
      • The plan could face some challenges and barriers in its implementation and evaluation, such as the availability and allocation of funding, the capacity and readiness of the workforce, the engagement and collaboration of partners, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors could affect the pace and scale of the change, as well as the outcomes and benefits of the plan
      • The plan could encounter some resistance or opposition from some stakeholders, such as parents, teachers, or schools, who may have different views or preferences on the best way to support children and young people with SEND. These differences could create some tension or conflict in the system, as well as some dissatisfaction or distrust among families
      • The plan could create some unintended or negative consequences for some children and young people with SEND and AP, such as increasing the pressure or expectations on them, reducing the diversity or flexibility of provision, or creating new gaps or inequalities in the system. These effects could harm the wellbeing or outcomes of some children and young people, as well as the quality or effectiveness of support

    Conclusion: My Thoughts on the Future of Education

    I hope that this discussion on Horizon Scanning and the identification of possible future education trends has been thought-provoking. I should probably put my money where my mouth is and make some predications so here is my TIDES model for Education (with an SEN slant).

    • Technology: A shift to AI integration into every aspect of life will create a divide between schools (or MATS) that embrace it and those who reject it along with the majority who don’t know. Lots of money will be wasted on consultants and training. Individual teachers will run with it and innovate, finding schools that align with this. A few parliamentary debates and lots of “90% of Pupils using AI to cheat” headlines as young people find all manner of ways to use it. Full time teachers are held back by the pressures of the job. Lots more Augmented reality elements will find their way into education but most will be fads soon left in cupboards.
    • Institutional change: More and more children will be pulled out of school for elective home education offered by organisations such as Pearson and exam boards who will design and launch “at home” curriculums with AI tutors. I guarantee a large MAT will start a virtual school. Maybe even big tech like Meta and google will move into this space. This dispersal of education will lead to tutor bases in supermarkets and shopping centres.
    • Demographics: As the average birth year of teachers enters the 2000s GEN-Z will have more influence at the strategic level. Experience will be replaced by innovation and a willingness to overcome some of the self imposed barriers to schooling (timetables, forced taking of subjects). Students who are born with instant online access will either embrace or reject tech in learning leading to radically different school choices. Some will never set foot in a school.
    • Environment: Large, inefficient, old RAAC infested schools will be replaced by dispersed learning hubs in repurposed retail and office units that pupils only attend when required. Climate change will mean schools investing in air con and renewables.
    • Shifting societal values: Ethics will become more important with inclusive schools finding ways to integrate into the community whilst others present a more conservative facade to court certain demographics. A move away from high-stakes testing into valuing micro-certifications will be driven by industries seeking highly specialist workers.

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