Ian Livingstone is a well-known name in the games industry.
Currently chairman of the Sumo Group and a partner at new venture capital firm Hiro Capital, he is perhaps best known to those in the business as the co-founder of Games Workshop and former CEO and President of British publisher of Eidos, which brought the world Lara Croft.
Next year, his well-known name will adorn a building: the Livingstone Academy. This new school has just been granted planning permission and will soon be constructed in the UK coastal town of Bournemouth with the aim of opening in September 2021.
The project is inspired by the Next Gen Skills Review, an extensive report Livingstone co-authored in 2011 to recommend how the government could improve education in a way that better prepared children for an increasingly digital world. The report led to changes to the national curriculum back in 2014, but Livingstone says this still does not address the issues he raised in his original report.
He told Gamesindustry.biz: “Computing replaced ICT [Information and Communications Technology] in the national curriculum, which was great news,” he says. “However, the curriculum itself is less than exciting and unfortunately does not demonstrate how empowering and creative a skill programming is. It’s an opportunity missed whereas the games industry has progressed significantly during the last ten years, evidenced by the current size of the market, advances in games technology and the career opportunities created.
“With computers not always seen as a tool to be creative, I felt a flagship school was needed to showcase an authentic education for the 21st century with digital literacy and a good Arts provision sitting alongside literacy and numeracy as essential disciplines.”
Hence the Livingstone Academy.
The industry veteran is working with Aspirations Academies, a charitable organisation that sponsors and aids the development of new schools across the UK. They learned from the Department of Education that there was a need for a new school in Bournemouth, where Livingstone had already built a solid relationship with the local university during the Next Gen Skills Review campaign.
Bournemouth is also home to an increasing number of tech start-ups, earning it the nickname ‘Silicon Beach,’ which Livingstone says makes it “the perfect town” for the school he has planned.
Initially open to 150 Year 7 students and 60 reception pupils, the academy will eventually host 1,500 pupils — all of whom will be guided through a special curriculum that emphasises the importance of STEAM skills: science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
The inclusion of arts is crucial; Livingstone believes the need for creativity in future generations makes arts an essential pillar, rather than the usual “STEM with Arts as an optional nice-to-have.”
“We want children to be equipped with the relevant skills to make them as ‘world-ready’ and ‘work-ready’ as possible,” Livingstone explains. “Robots and AI are going to do the jobs which involve repetition so there’s no point in teaching children like robots as they won’t be able to compete with the real thing. Creativity and computing are vital skills for the 21st century. Children need to learn the two C’s as well as the three R’s in school.”
Naturally, given Livingstone’s background, games will play a role in the way his academy teaches its students. While there won’t be games-specific courses, making video games will be part of computer science or design projects and there will be other subjects that draw on the principles of games-based learning.
The goal, according to the school’s website, is to teach kids to be “creators and makers, not just users.”
“Children love playing games but few have insight as to how they are made or how technologies are built,” says Livingstone. “The plan is to move them from digital consumption to digital creativity. Software engineers, artists and animators are always in demand, and not just in the video games industry. These are transferable skills and key to the digital economy.”
In addition to the practical skills associated with science, technology and the other pillars, there will be an emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving, and good communications. Children will even be taught the value of risk-taking in the hopes of inspiring future entrepreneurs.
“It’s important children should not be afraid of failure,” Livingstone says. “For me, failure is just success work-in-progress.
He adds: “I believe there needs to be an adjustment in the metrics of what is seen as important in education. The national curriculum is focussed on academic success and exams.
“However, not everybody will become an academic. To my mind, skills should be on a par with qualifications, and know-how should be on a par with knowledge. The classroom should try to replicate the workplace and everyday life wherever possible. Learning-by-doing, collaboration, and project-based learning contextualises the learning experience and puts theory into practice. In other words, make something.”
Livingstone reports he has already had offers of help from various corners of the games industry, but there will be plenty more opportunities to give talks, mentor, set projects, or provide work experience for students once the school opens next year.
“Games are a contextual hub for learning,” he concludes. “It would be great if the industry could help inspire children to become job makers as well as job seekers.”