Big Change at 10

7 March 2022

As we enter our 10th year, our CEO Essie North reflects on our journey so far and what the next phase of Big Change holds.


This year Big Change turns 10. I’ve never been that excited by birthdays, but there is something about them, like the start of a new year or new term, that prompts a moment of reflection. A pause in time to soak in the journey to date, reflect on lessons learnt and set intentions for what’s to come. 

The “big change” remains fixed. We want to see society working together so that every young person is set up to thrive in life.  

That vision, coupled with a key question, was the start of our journey.

How can we rethink the role of charity
and become a catalyst for long-term positive change?

Our founders knew that they didn’t have the answers. From their initial conversations with frontline workers and experts across the sector they knew the change journey was complex: that there were no silver bullets and many interrelated factors at play. So began a 10 year exploration of learning by doing and, inevitably, a lot more questions.

Over the years, the Big Change team, myself included, and our donors have been on a huge learning journey, taking on insights from research, action and collaboration in the UK and globally. We have backed over 40 project partners doing incredible work across the UK. Together, they have positively impacted the lives of nearly 8m young people, supported over 200k teachers, parents, carers and other adults working with young people, and worked with 45K schools and learning communities. These projects and leaders have gone on to unlock £60m in further funding to grow their impact. We have also learnt a great deal from where big change is happening across the world, working with diverse groups of partners and allies who share a commitment to transforming education systems in different contexts. And we have been listening to young people, parents, teachers, school leaders and employers to understand their aspirations and ideas for change.

As the next exciting phase for Big Change is underway, we are fuelled by what we have learnt and continue to be unashamedly hopeful about the future. There are three big messages and actions that will shape our work in the next decade.…

We can do more to support pioneers from all backgrounds to lead the change  

Early on at Big Change we looked at how other sectors supported innovative or new ideas and identified that in the public sector there was very little support or risk capital for early stage ideas or for leaders’ big ideas and ambitions for change. Most support goes to what is already proven. We learnt how important it was to give brave leaders the space to shape bold ideas and work with others to bring their projects to life. This led to our focus on backing pioneers and funding project partners and we couldn’t be prouder of the incredible work they have done to challenge assumptions about what’s possible and to rethink so many parts of the sector in line with our 10 hopes for change.

Despite their amazing progress, we recognise there is more to do to ensure that leaders from all backgrounds and geographies have the support needed to make their bold ideas a reality. 

This year we will launch our Pioneers’ Prize Fund. This fund will celebrate and support brave people with bold ideas and a deep commitment to working with others to ensure all young people are supported to learn and thrive.

We need to hold the ambition for transformation not just reform 

Since 2017 we have had the privilege of bringing together, and learning with, a group of global leaders who share a commitment to reimagining education with and for young people. At the end of last year, alongside OECD, RewirEd, Teach for All, HundrED, Dream a Dream, African Leadership Academy and many others, we launched A New Education Story: Three drivers to transform education systems. 

The drivers require us all to think differently about; purpose – the goals and outcomes of education; power – expanding who has voice and agency in the system; and practice – unlocking innovation that has transformative potential. 

A New Education Story is a provocation for conversation and action. At this moment, when education leaders, policymakers, and funders in every context are making decisions about changes to education and learning , this is an invitation to step back, to ask big questions, and to think differently about both what we are aiming for, and how to get there.  

Read A New Education Story

We need to empower young people to shape long-term system change

For 18 months we have been working with IPPR, with young people and other expert partners to design a 5-year project that combines powerful insight gathering, collective action and public engagement and campaigning to set a new direction for learning in England.

Across 2021 we listened to the voices of young people, parents, teachers, school leaders, and employers to understand their hope and ideas for change post-pandemic. Across these groups, 77% agree that now is the time to rethink what education is really for and to change things for the better. We have an unbalanced education system with too narrow a focus and need to move to an inclusive system that inspires lifelong learners. 

They also agree that one size doesn’t really fit anyone – many many young people feel like the system is failing them and we need a system that celebrates diversity, gives choice and allows everyone to enjoy success. Finally, we heard a really strong message that it really does take a village – it takes young people, parents, employers working with and alongside teachers to support young people’s learning. 

In 2022 we will launch Subject to Change, a new national project empowering young people and the public to set a new direction for learning, starting with the recruitment of a Project Council of 11-18 year olds who will lead the project alongside a coalition of partners. 

Find out more about Subject to Change

As we enter an exciting new phase for Big Change I want to thank everyone who has made the work of the last 10 years possible. Big Change has grown from and with an incredible community of supporters. You know who you are and we are endlessly grateful for your belief in us to do what is right, not what is easy.  

Working in partnership with others to collectively channel more energy and resources into long-term transformation is critical. We’re seeking sector allies, partners and funders to help shape our work so please get in touch if you’d like to be part of it.

A new way is possible, let’s create this future for young people together.

Essie North, CEO

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