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Reimagining Education Breakfast

2 November 2017: posted by BigChange

In September Big Change convened a group of leading thinkers, influencers and policy experts from across a diverse range of sectors for a breakfast hosted by Lord Jim Knight, Andreas Schleicher (OECD), and Holly Branson to discuss the future of education. Led by Andreas’s insights from his work across international education systems, a number of important themes and priorities emerged for those of us who are advocating for change.

When it comes to the design of education systems we fundamentally need to get away from the notion of sorting human talent towards building and developing all human talent – we need everyone to be able to contribute and participate and to build positive futures for themselves. Yet current school practices such as tracking, streaming and grade repetition are devices which create winners and losers in the exam attainment game, where some young people are seen as successes and others failures. In England for example, 40% of each cohort every year fails to achieve well in school due to the way that the assessment system is structured, and where academic attainment is all that is valued. This mentality hugely impacts on young people’s identity, behaviour, and self esteem, as well as their desire to seek out learning in later life.

Consensus is emerging across education systems around the need for both subject centric learning in schools (knowledge domains such as maths and english and science) and also interdisciplinary instruction which develops core skills and competencies for the future. The importance of developing human talent is increasingly being seen through the lens of promoting student agency, and combined with this culture shift away from seeing learners purely as recipients of  predetermined subject knowledge, rather co-creators, designers and makers. Schools need to be much more connected to the world outside of the classroom, and particularly the world of work. Big Change is leading thinking around this through our support for projects which are broadening horizons for young people, and developing oracy skills – and there is mounting evidence that non-cognitive skills such as communication, collaboration and team working are most sought after by employers when recruiting.


Parents also have huge part to play in supporting this shift in approach, and often recognise the flaws of the current system in solely focussing on and valuing academic attainment. Parents also worry about the ‘exam factory’ model of school and their childs wellbeing, but have a deep fear of change and the risk of their child losing out. There is uncertainty around what change will mean, and advocacy needs to form a key part of all of our work in reducing the fear of change and inspiring a positive vision for the future of education. Big Change is currently working with Sundog Pictures and Think Global Schools to develop a documentary focusing on changing the hearts and minds of parents, and we will also be exploring many of these themes in our upcoming publication Redefining Success, which thinks much more expansively about what success and achievement looks like in education and life. 

Supporting teachers and creating a strong climate for professional development and collaboration is also a hallmark of the highest performing education systems – and we need to develop strong professional learning cultures in schools, moving towards a notion of teacher education rather than teacher training which gives teachers more ownership and agency. Often teachers tend to work in isolation, very few have anyone talking to them about professional practice development, which results in poor cultures in schools, stress, and high teacher burnout and attrition rates. Plus it means that there is a significant lack of capacity in the system to adapt and evolve. Creating a strong profession is vital as the quality of teaching and those relationships in the classroom is one of the biggest determinants in a childs education success, and we can all look back at our time in school and recognise those teachers who have inspired us and helped shape the paths we are now on. Teacher wellbeing is a big part of Big Change’s work and we are really excited to be supporting the new Institute for Teaching and The Difference this year, both programmes which are rethinking teacher professional development and leadership training routes through the profession. Early years education was also highlighted as an area where there is huge opportunity to learn from quality teaching practice and pedagogy development. 

Looking to the future a key question therefore is how we can mobilise the ‘experimental low key genius’ of teachers, and enable them to be the system drivers, designers and shapers, with greater ownership and gains. Place is an interesting dimension in this context with the potential for the creation of new localised ‘innovation ecosystems’ especially in the context of regional devolution in England and the advent of elected Mayors and City Leaders who are becoming powerful advocates and drivers of policy and local collaboration at City Region level. We need to open up our education systems much more to outside innovators, and create more space for entrepreneurship and new forms of collaboration, bringing new skillsets and voices into the system. Big Change’s commitment to supporting pioneers and those leading the way in developing new approaches who might not otherwise meet the thresholds of other funders will continue to be really important for our strategy. And especially given a lack of risk taking and inertia in the system can stifle experimentation and positive change. Big Change requires big thinking and action!