This is an ironic story. There is no one and no institution that has done more to set off an international test score competition than Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, which administers the periodic international tests called PISA, the Programme in International Student Assessment. Every nation wants to be first. Every nation waits anxiously to see whether its test scores in reading, mathematics, and science went up or down. In 2010, when the 2009 PISA scores were released, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama declared that the U.S. was facing another “Sputnik moment,” and it was time to crack down. Others wrung their hands and wondered how we could toughen up to compete with Shanghai.

Yet Scheicher testified recently to a committee of the House of Commons that arts education may be more valuable than the academic skills that are tested.

The arts could become more important for young people than maths in the future, according to a leading education expert.

Researcher Andreas Schleicher, who leads the Programme for International Student Assessment at the intergovernmental economic organisation OECD, told a House of Commons inquiry that he believed young people could benefit more from the skills gained through creativity than test-based learning.

He was giving evidence to the Education Select Committee as part of an ongoing inquiry into the fourth industrial revolution – the influence of technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence on society.

Schleicher, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading educational thinkers, said: “I would say, in the fourth industrial revolution, arts may become more important than maths.”

“We talk about ‘soft skills’ often as social and emotional skills, and hard skills as about science and maths, but it might be the opposite,” he said, suggesting that science and maths may become ‘softer’ in future when the need for them decreases due to technology, and the ‘hard skills’ will be “your curiosity, your leadership, your persistence and your resilience”.

His comments come amid ongoing concerns about the narrowing of the education system in the UK to exclude creativity and prioritise academic subjects.

Campaigners argue that this is prohibiting many young people from pursuing creative careers. However, Schleicher said that too narrow a curriculum could also make young people less prepared for the demands of the future.