Twenty educators representing a wide variety of educational institutions and self-directed learning communities met in Bicester for a weekend of discussions on how relationship-building can be an avenue to change in teaching and learning as well as a broad range of activities related to the personal development of children and young adults. Organised by the Potential Trust, this Potential Conference was run in conjunction with Human Scale Education.

Participants agreed on the value of shared, positive experiences as a basis for educational attainment, emphasising the foundational importance of intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy for everyone involved in education.

Relationships were seen by many of those present as the best way to counter the many ills of the current state of education in England: teachers being under such pressure that they don’t even have time to familiarise themselves with the support plans drawn up by their institution for specific pupils; unhealthy expectations of educational ‘success’ and the relentless focus on exams which lead to the invisibility of teachers in the classroom; and a lack of communication between mainstream and alternative education providers as well as between schools, healthcare providers and community organisations.

A number of practical approaches to change were showcased and discussed:

  • The call for twenty percent of class time being devoted to learner-driven activities;
  • Replacing behaviour management policies with a relationship management policy;
  • Resource-sharing initiatives, including around climate education;
  • Activities rooted in resonance pedagogy;
  • and many others, notably those championed by Human Scale Education.

Participants considered drivers of change as well as time-frames. One working group was formed to synthesize positions held by the group into a list of proposals to be presented to the new education secretary while another focused on what each and every teacher can do for themselves.

Some participants challenged the notion that radical change would necessarily take a long time, citing examples of reforms that quickly made a big difference, although not all of these were seen as positive. It was agreed that even if we were aiming for sustainable solutions, stability and trusting relationships, first steps could be taken soon.

Founders and other representatives of self-directed learning communities emphasised the need to respect children’s rights and the rights of nature in education, in order to avoid abusive relationships (coercive, extractive relationships) being replicated from generation to generation. It was recognised that values and practices of these communities can inspire change in formal education settings as well.

The following ‘next steps’ were among the actions agreed by Conference participants:

  • aim, in policy-related discussions about mainstream and alternative educational institutions, for a redefinition of educational ‘success’ and ‘flourishing’;
  • share specific good practices to inspire colleagues in order to counter the ‘professional loneliness’ of some teachers and educators;
  • share what you will do in the short, medium and long term, again to indicate to others what specific actions can be taken.


Potential Conferences

Potential Conferences are working retreats which give a group of up to about 20 people the time and space to discuss issues about which they are passionate, and which relate to children and young people and their learning potential. A Potential Conference is in essence ‘a 24-hour coffee break with dinner thrown in’ that offers participants time to exchange ideas, explore effective ways forward, make new contacts and renew existing ones.

We do have specific areas of interest each year but we are also interested in exploring new and emerging issues and providing a forum for putting people together to discuss cutting edge ideas which resonate with the aims of the Trust.

Find out more!