Big Education Conversation team

In 2022, the Big Education Conversation became a global initiative. 

The global initiative was formally launched at the UN Transforming Education Summit in New York with the first live global Big Education Conversation involving over 500 youth leaders and activists, policymakers, civil society organisations and education Ministers. 

Through a partnership with LEGO Foundation, the Brookings Institution and organisations in 11 countries, it aims to ignite a million inclusive conversations about the purpose of education.

For the past three years we’ve been working with Whole Education and other partners to develop the Big Education Conversation in England, which we will continue to grow whilst learning from other countries

The pilot campaign

Across June and July 2021, we ran a national campaign called the Big Education Conversation to get people talking about what education is really for and how it should change for the future. 

From Zoom rooms to classrooms, school runs to Facebook groups and podcasts to cafes, over 25,000 people and organisations came together to debate important topics in education. Over 4,000 ideas and opinions were submitted that were each read, systematically coded and analysed by our team of youth activists, former teachers and parents.

Big Change, IPPR and their partners have taken the findings of the Big Education Conversation and used them to set-up an ambitious 5 year project, led by young people, parents, teachers and employers. Launching in 2022, Subject to Change is a new national project that combines powerful insight, collective action, and public engagement to create a new direction for learning. 


We first funded Whole Education in 2018 to develop the Big Education Conversation (BEC), having identified the role it could play in inspiring new, future-focused discussions, but also in catalysing action at a local and national level. BEC events were piloted, taking place, and planned across the country, involving a growing number of committed partners, when the pandemic hit and meant this work had to be paused.

As part of our work to create a public conversation that could shape the future and purpose of education (our hope #1), and having seen how BEC could shine a light on the people and organisations calling for big changes in how we support the next generation, and the role of school and education in that, we agreed with Whole Education to carry on and relaunch the work of the Big Education Conversation.

The problem

Education is everyone’s business. It is not the responsibility of teachers and schools alone to better prepare young people for their futures, but it is everyone’s in a local learning ecosystem.

However there currently aren’t the spaces to bring together parents, teachers, young people, youth leaders, employers and community leaders around this issue; to learn what’s already happening locally, share ideas and take action together.

The OECD’s Andreas Schliecher and CBI’s Paul Dreschler have both highlighted that the English education system is increasingly an outlier in the world, and not preparing young people well for the future. This was the catalyst that created the Big Education Conversation – to enact a positive and constructive response to the challenge.

  • 66% of parents fear their child will not find a job, and 46% worry that their child is unhappy.
  • 87% of teachers wish that school prepared children to make a positive difference in society but only 36% believe it does.
  • Meanwhile, 88% of employers do not think that school leavers are prepared for the workforce.
  • And, of young people themselves – only 36% of millenials feel they have the knowledge and skills needed to thrive.

The solution

The Big Education Conversation (BEC) is focused on a simple but powerful guiding question – “how can we better prepare young people for their futures?” BEC believes that local communities need help to more inclusively bring a range of different people and groups together more to drive more effective action around this issue.

Lead by local volunteers, Big Education Conversation events bring together a range of local stakeholders – community leaders, young people, school leaders, parents, employers –in a growing number of places across the country. Events will be guided by the key question, based on the premise of the importance of conversation as a pre-cursor to effective action.

“How can we better prepare young people for their futures?”

Work in action

Big Education Conversation, backed by Big Change, has mobilised conversations in 18 different locations across England, supporting and amplifying the collective action that these conversations inspire.

Recently, in Cambridge, community members discussed how to ensure their education system is equitable and accessible for everyone. The organisers believe that only then will they realise education and learning’s potential to catalyse personal and career development for all their young people. Over 2020 Big Education Conversation will support conversations in 30 places across England.

The Big Changers

Douglas Archibald, Director

Douglas is Whole Education’s Director. His focus is on supporting education transformation through peer-to-peer networks. Douglas started his career as a manager on Accenture’s Human Performance practice before leading the development of the Knowledge and Innovation Network at Warwick Business School.

His work on networks has been published in Harvard Business Review and he has advised a number of third and public sector bodies, including the United Nations Development Program and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Before leading Whole Education he was a Partner at the Innovation Unit