The Educational Futures Seminar Series is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The series aims to explore how futures-oriented education research can contribute to the UK education system’s capacity to engage with the challenges of the 21st century. Through a series of events, the series sets out to:

  1. enhance the communication and exchange of ideas between researchers working in diverse education and futures research fields
  2. enable education researchers to develop and extend theoretical and methodological tools to generate informed analysis of possible and alternative socio-technical and educational futures
  3. debate the ethical challenges of researching ‘the future’ in education
  4. enhance the contribution of futures-oriented education research to education strategy


Thinking about the future is a fundamental part of education: from children making decisions in the light of their aspirations for their future lives, to national governments designing curricula to support future citizens. In the schools sector alone, the UK government is investing £45bn in its ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme to re-imagine and redesign the schools estate for ‘for the 21st century’.

The 21st century is potentially a time of rapid change, fuelled by developments in computing and bioscience, by environmental challenges and new global power relationships. To date, however, there has been little critical research-based reflection on the nature of the assumptions about ‘the future’ that underpin decision-making in education, nor research-led attempts to envisage alternative educational futures. Such an oversight challenges the capacity of the UK research community to productively inform the design of education for the next generation. It is therefore critically important to enhance the capacity of education researchers to engage with the problematic of ‘researching the future’ and to support education leaders to develop more critical orientations toward ‘the future’.

This problem is being explored in a range of different academic, governmental and commercial research settings: for example, there has been a resurgence of academic interest in the sociology of ‘futures studies’ that raises questions about the ethics of thinking about the future. In education specifically, computer scientists are developing model ‘future learning environments’ and there is international interest in developing ‘futures’ education with its links with sustainability and global citizenship agendas. There has also recently been a growth in government-funded ‘futures research’ programmes related to education. These programmes, often run outside the traditional academic community, have built up a range of methods to support long term futures thinking, ranging from complex data modelling techniques, to qualitative participatory toolsets. They comprise programmes such as the OECD ‘Future of Schooling’ scenarios; the DCSF ‘Beyond Current Horizons’ Programme; and the NIACE Future of Lifelong Learning Inquiry, among others. These programmes are very small subgroup of the much wider field of commercial, academic and governmental ‘futures research’.

These efforts, however, are distributed across a wide range of research organisations with little opportunity to share theoretical, methodological and ethical frameworks; they are rarely the subject of sustained and critical academic scrutiny; and, in the wider futures field, Education is often under-represented and under-theorised other than as a mechanism for ‘futures education’.

If the education community is to substantially benefit from developments such as these in order to inform the design of education for the 21st century, a sustained effort must be made to begin to build a connected community of rigorous futures-oriented research for education.

The aspiration of this seminar series, then, is simple: it will bring together researchers from these diverse futures and education fields in order to better understand how futures-oriented research might be used to improve the education system’s capacity to engage with and intervene in the challenges of the 21st century.

It will achieve these aims through a series of 4 one-day seminars which will address: how to build a dialogue between diverse education and futures research fields; the current ‘state of play’ of research in ‘educational futures’; the methods and tools used to critically ‘research’ the future; and, the ethics of futures research in education.

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