Compass Conference – Radical Approaches to Education

A much-anticipated and sold-out conference turned out to be a stimulating and enjoyable day in the company of thoughtful people who were all clearly focused on the difficulties of the current education system and its failures to produce forms of education and schooling that are properly fit for the 21st century.

The day began with three keynote speeches which were in their different ways excellent summaries of where we are in education in England, and where we need to travel to in order to create better schools, better learning and better opportunities for young people.

Neal Lawson – Chair of Compass

Key points from his address:

  • There is injustice in our education system.
  • We’re now beginning to make intellectual headway in order to address the failures within the system.
  • There has been an unprecedented onslaught on social democratic values and comprehensive education, and there has been a deliberate creation of chaos within the system by the present government.
  • Our government has been attempting to impose market solutions to what it sees as the problems within the system.
  • The Labour Party has been feeble in exposing and resisting a market-dominated culture which it was partly responsible for enabling during its period in government.
  • Outside of the family, schools and education are the keys to the culture that children grow up in.
  • Our education system has become a learn-to-earn treadmill, with many heads and teachers actively collaborating with the notion that the purpose of education is to prepare young people for ‘the workplace’. [Ironically the CBI’s enquiry into education has said that the current system fails dismally to educate young people either for a fulfilling and independent personal life or for a creative working life.]
  • We need a new comprehensive vision of education for all.
  • Education must no longer be run by unelected bureaucrats with weak supervision by local politicians who have little understanding of schools or pedagogy. And it must not be left to ‘the market’ to run schools and chains of schools, and make decisions about teaching and learning. We need elected local education boards to oversee education in each area. [The Inner London Education Authority was a highly successful single-purpose elected education authority prior to its abolition by the Conservative Party.]
  • We need local accountability and locally-managed school monitoring.
  • We need a new liberating era of co-creating an education system fit for the 21st century.
  • We need a renewed and respected public service ethos to drive developments.
  • This is by no means just a left/liberal project to co-create a high quality education system. The Confederation of British Industry strongly supports the abolition of the tests, targets and exams culture and wants to see teachers teaching more creatively and pupils learning more creatively. Simon Jenkins had written very powerfully about the dysfunctionality of our system and its Gradgrind mentality.
  • We need to stick by our values but change our methods in schools and colleges, in order to develop a new comprehensive model.
  • One of the key aims of the new model must be to enable young people to learn better attitudes and better ways of living together, in contrast to the ethos of people like bankers and hedge-fund managers who appear to think that individual enrichment and unscrupulous profiteering are the keys to a good life.
  • We need to create schools and a system that bring out the best in people.
  • We need to alter the terms of the debate and force policy makers to confront more radical options for changing education in England.
  • This conference can be a milestone on the route to a better education system and a better society.

neal lawson

Jon Cruddas MP

  • We need energy and vitality on the radical flank of politics.
  • The Labour Party is currently carrying out a series of formal policy reviews. [Mr Cruddas is coordinating these reviews]
  • We need to reconsider the creation of academies, and the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance for young people.
  • We need to deal with the right for schools to employ unqualified teachers.
  • We need to think again about how we train teachers.
  • We need a proper focus on the needs of the 50% of pupils who are not interested in or not suited to university courses.
  • We need to reconsider Pring’s Nuffield Review of 14-19 education.
  • We need to deal with the idea of whether schools should be allowed to make profits.
  • We need to pay attention to some key books which have been published recently –
  • Pasi Sahlberg – Finnish Lessons
  • Melissa Benn – School Wars
  • Michael Fielding and Peter Moss – Radical Education and the Common School: a Democratic Alternative
  • Sahlberg’s book describes how 20 years of political consensus in Finland has enabled the country to build the world’s most successful education system, which is based on the comprehensive principle and equality of access to high-quality teaching.
  • The success of Finland shows that greater equality promotes high achievement.
  • We need to respect and trust our teachers [as they do in Finland] and see them as part of the solution instead of as part of the problem.
  • We need to ask again what education is FOR.
  • We need schools to produce wiser and more knowledgeable citizens who have the ability to live satisfying and rewarding lives.
  • We need to ask ourselves which values and virtues we should aim to develop and nurture in our young people.

jon cruddas

Dr Mary Bousted – General Secretary of Association of Teachers and Lecturers

  • We need education for a good society
  • Education has transformational power.
  • Wealth, health and education are inextricably entwined.
  • Action is needed across the whole of society.
  • We need to refute the accusations of making excuses for poor schools ‘performance’.
  • We need to reclaim powerful words like rigour and aspiration.
  • We need to address the factors that impact on children, their wellbeing and their achievements – poverty, bad and unsuitable housing, poor health, lack of work opportunities. Too many people face huge personal, social and economic problems.
  • We need to ask what good education looks like.
  • We still have a Victorian curriculum, and too often a Victorian attitude to pedagogy.
  • Education must not be seen as a commodity.
  • Schools need to collaborate, not compete.
  • There should be no ‘for profit’ providers for state schools, since they promote competition instead of collaboration.
  • We need to enable pupils to collaborate, not compete.
  • We need to promote a framework of values.
  • A national curriculum fit for the 21st century is not one that simply deals in a ‘transfer of knowledge’.
  • We need to re-think what constitutes knowledge, and understanding. At the moment the focus in schools is to tests pupils on their memorisation of ‘what is’; but we need a proper focus on enabling pupils to ask ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘who’, and to carry out effective research to find answers.
  • We need a better focus on the practical application of theoretical knowledge.
  • Learning should be creative, practical and physical.
  • Young people need to learn values and habits that last a lifetime.
  • The debates we’ve had about education have been on terms that are far too narrow and conservative.
  • We need to reject the idea of education as a commodity that gives people a competitive edge in life.
  • We need people who can collaborate, cooperate and create.

mary bousted


Neal Lawson _ _ _ _ (c)3Di Associates



Dr Mary Bousted _ _ _ _ (c)3Di Associates



Jon Cruddas MP _ _ _ _ (c)3Di Associates

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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