This is the man credited with the Tories' big idea ... the 'Big Society'. Tomorrow he will damn England's school system and the 'incapable' kids it churns out

2nd July 2010 at 01:00

The education system fails both the highest and lowest achievers and churns out over-specialised students unable to survive in the modern workplace, the academic credited with much of David Cameron's political philosophy will claim this weekend.

Phillip Blond, director of the think-tank ResPublica and creator of the prime minister's "Big Society", will say the need to specialise early has created "far too many artists terrified of maths" and legions of scientists "unable to write or communicate".

The standardised exam system, he will say, rewards middling performance, while A-levels "fail to reveal excellence or ask for excellence."

He will say there is something "profoundly wrong" with an education system that does not require pupils to think critically or take innovative approaches, which he says will be increasingly important skills in a changing world.

Mr Blond told The TES that the International Baccalaureate, favoured by only a handful of state schools, was one model "we should show great interest in" for creating well-rounded minds with the ability to see things from different perspectives.

Britain needed to study the US and other systems, which have a more "pick and mix" approach to learning, he said - although he was reluctant to comment on New Labour's 14-19 diplomas.

Talking to The TES ahead of his speech to the inaugural Festival of Education hosted by Wellington College this weekend, he said the system needed more generalists capable of applying imagination to scientific thinking, like Isaac Newton.

He said: "Despite all the talk of modernisation, we are essentially stuck in the two-cultures model, turning out scientists without arts and artists without science and mathematical skills. This is not working for the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) or British interests.

"We are producing people who are not flexible, cannot adapt, who are not innovative, uncritical and lack basic skills.

"There are too many artists terrified of maths, and far too many scientists can't write or communicate. Our system produces standardisation and narrow skill sets in even our best achievers, so we need to change our approach.

"We need fully rounded people capable of operating in a diversity of frameworks, who can apply themselves with diligence and discipline; that is true in every job."

He said essential skills for the future will be team working, networking, critical application and problem-solving.

"We need to specialise much later - we specialise too early on a model that is already obsolete. Innovation is what will make the future of the country, " he said.

Mr Blond's session will form just a small part of the Festival of Education, which has been modelled on the cerebral Hay literary festival and will be held at the famous Berkshire college.

Other key thinkers, writers and experts to appear at the two-day event include philosophy professor A C Grayling, journalist Toby Young and education researcher Professor Alan Smithers.

The event will culminate in a debate between the prominent feminist thinker Germaine Greer and former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, with the motion: "You don't need a good education to lead the good life."


- Phillip Blond was born in Liverpool in 1966

- He was educated at Hull, Warwick and Cambridge universities

- He then became a senior lecturer in theology and philosophy at the University of Cumbria

- In 2008, his ideas about a society that gives local people the power to run their own services, reducing state control, came to the attention of the Conservative party

- He founded the think-tank ResPublica in 2009

- In the same year, his book, Red Tory, was published. It explains his vision of a "bottom-up" society, which gives economic and social power back to the people.

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