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Headmaster's Blog - 'Preparing for the Future'

Now at the last day of term, there are a lot of powerful emotions in force around the campus. For most students, the overwhelming feeling is one of euphoria, as they look ahead to nine long weeks of freedom. Yet for those leaving us, the day brings a complex mix of sadness, excitement and trepidation, as they look ahead to life beyond Bloxham.

Leaving school is one of life’s major milestones, marking the threshold to adulthood and independence. For me, as for so many of my generation, life after school was fairly straightforward. I knew I would go to university and, although the economy in the 90s was hardly booming, I felt pretty confident I would find a job and begin building a career.

For those leaving Bloxham today the pathway is more uncertain; particularly in the area of technology, and the opportunities and threats it presents to the graduate job market. The seismic technological shift in what many are calling the fourth industrial revolution is transforming the workplace. According to a global survey of experts in machine learning, conducted by Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute and published earlier this month, we have 120 years before all human jobs are automated. Now, I’m not an expert in machine learning, but that does sound a little extreme! Nonetheless, the workplace is clearly changing and it seems you can’t pick up a paper or tune into the radio these days without hearing something about AI.

The last discussion I heard on Radio 4, with Tabitha Goldstaub, founder of CognitionX and host of last week’s CogEx conference, was more heartening, and worthy of reflection here. While Goldstaub acknowledged the increasing role AI would play in the professional services, she believed it was tasks, not jobs, which would be replaced by machines. She described a future where “men, women and machines are working together to improve productivity.” Interestingly for those of us responsible for educating the next generation, she argued that with the right education and skills, the impact would be one of redeployment, rather than unemployment, adding that we would always need people to work alongside machines, to optimise the power of AI.

Bloxham has often said it is “in the business of preparing people for the business of life” and I firmly believe that the employability skills we teach here – communication, resilience, team-work and so on – will always be highly regarded in the work place. Focus now must be on how we develop our educational offer to take account of these technological advances and equip our students to make the most of the opportunities they present. This will be a priority of the school’s strategy for the next five to ten years, requiring the backing and support of our whole community. Fortunately, Bloxhamists are human beings, not robots, who understand the value of community and the importance of investing in it for the future! I look forward to discussing this further with you in September, but for now, let’s all just enjoy the summer.