Read on to find out more about the key messages that came through from over 4,000 data points that have each been read, systematically coded and analysed by our team of youth activists, former teachers and parents.
The Big Education Conversation set out to shine a light on the people and organisations calling for change, to use a simple invitation to conversation to inspire new and deeper connections, and to show that the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. The space to pause and reflect together on the purpose of the system as it is currently designed, can open up new paths to updating it. From what is, to what if?
"They said: When are we meeting again?" - Atif Ali, after 9 young people came together at 9am on a Saturday morning for a BEC in a Birmingham cafe
We’re now delighted to share back the findings, reflecting what we heard across the conversations. We hope you’ll find them as interesting as we did and that you’ll share those that resonate with you the most.
Why not use the findings to spark more conversations in your homes, schools and communities? Both about the big changes we want to work together on in the long term as well as the local changes you can make right now (some ideas waiting at the bottom of the page!).
Across the board, people agree that right now the system is out of balance and that there should be a broader set of purposes for education.
All groups want to see big changes to exams. After a year of stressful exam disruption, and an algorithm debacle that exposed a system currently designed to ensure that a third of students "fail", the public are united in their demand for changes to assessment. This was the most frequently mentioned theme among parents and teachers, and for young people came second only to mental health and wellbeing. They all believe we can do better.
The biggest concern for young people links to pressure from exams and the feeling of being reduced to a number.
Young people were clear they wanted to spend more time learning life skills, calling especially for financial and sex education. They also want a more inclusive curriculum, and a system that recognises and celebrates their diversity and individuality, and gives them more agency over their own learning.
“Allowing children the freedom to be creative in their work to express themselves and stop putting so much pressure and weight on them to perform well in exams, stop teaching them that their value is their grade.” - Young Person
“I think it all needs a bit of a check-up from the neck up, as we used to say! The world has changed so dramatically over the last 50 years, and yet the focus of activity in schools remain largely unchanged.” - Teacher
Teachers and leaders know testing is important but it shouldn’t be prioritised above all else. We heard loudly in the data that they want to work with a broader, more relevant curriculum, with climate very frequently mentioned. Teachers and leaders also want to see structural and policy changes. These include: more supportive and purposeful accountability frameworks, more funding for specialist support in schools, and more trust in their decision-making.
“An education with children and their learning, rather than accountability, at its heart.” - Parent
Parents and carers want changes to assessment, most of all less testing. They want to see more space for more creativity and life skills, and they want the system to allow for a more relevant curriculum and more personalised experience of learning, because ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ . They’re also concerned about the system’s impact on their children’s mental health
“An education system that is representative of the skills, diversity and competencies I need. One that improves diversity and inclusion not inadvertently undermining it” - Employer
Overall we had less data from employers, but from what we heard we know they also want change to curriculum and to assessment. They want to see a system from which young people graduate with life skills - especially communication and the ability to learn new skills and knowledge beyond school. They want the system to support a diversity of talent and ways of demonstrating this, and want vocational learning pathways to be better supported and encouraged.
We would love to hear how you’d like to see the Big Education Conversation develop from here. You can sign up to our newsletter list here to keep updated, and get in touch with us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you hosted a conversation we hope you’ll share these findings with everyone who took part, as an invitation to continue the conversation.
All the findings from this year’s Big Education Conversation are directly informing the build of Subject to Change: an ambitious new national project that will empower young people and the public to set a new direction for learning. Gearing up for launch in 2022, it will combine powerful insight, collective action, and public engagement - supporting young people’s leadership and agency throughout.
But you don’t have to wait until then to take action on what you’ve heard, in your local community or echoed in the national picture presented here. Young people were loud and clear in the data and in the conversations they chose to lead; they want to shape their learning and power a system update starting now.
"There is a massive gap in school governance of those with most recent experiences of education. There is a higher proportion of volunteers aged 70 and over (14%) than there are aged under 40 (11%) - an even smaller proportion are under 30 (2%) (NGA 2020). Governing boards should reflect the community they serve and wider society." - Saeed
Get in touch with the Young Governor's Network to find out more.
2/ Catch people's attention
"Catch people's attention. Give them a reason to stop and think about the big questions. What's the purpose of the education system as it's currently designed? What should education really be for?"
You can easily make QR codes for free here.
3/ Start an 'after school' club focused on big changes
"Start an ‘after school’ club which considers how you want your school, and education in general, to change. Take a look at this local action circle guide we made at YouthxYouth, a global community of education activists reimagining and reclaiming learning." - Eliza
And, of course, don't forget to put your conversation on the map!