‘All Our Futures’ revisited – moving beyond twenty five years of moral dissonance


Moral dissonance arises as a result of a conflict between ‘is’ and ‘should’, a fundamental split between what actually exists in our world and what we know is right. It results in a profound loss of authenticity and integrity. We keep going, we adjust our hopes and expectations, but we lose the very core of our motivation and joy. And dissonance is insidious. It doesn’t declare itself, because the adaptations our brain makes to getting on with life make the fracture points invisible to us.

The National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education was established in February 1998 to make recommendations to David Blunkett (Education Minister) and Chris Smith (Minister for culture, media and sport) on the creative and cultural development of children and young people, and to make recommendations for principles, policies and practice. The committee was headed by Sir Ken Robinson, the Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick. Their report, ‘All Our Futures’ was produced in 1999. It was an immense, and deeply well-researched, statement of what would be needed for a twenty first century education system that would be fit for purpose.

This report was widely welcomed by school leaders and teachers, and has been completely ignored by successive governments ever since. Far from the transformation of the curriculum recommended by the report, the national curriculum has become an ever more rigid structure of narrow focus on targets and examination attainments. When the curriculum becomes more rigid and authoritarian, and fails to meet the learning needs of children and young people or the community as a whole, teachers and school leaders are likely to experience moral dissonance. Work which was entered into with high hopes and high ideals becomes steadily eroded into producing data to demonstrate compliance, and an often joyless churning out of lesson plans conforming with the national curriculum.

But it gets worse. An authoritarian curriculum, and the loss of authenticity and critical integrity that follow, leaves staff and leaders vulnerable to the entire culture of the school becoming more authoritarian. This has been reinforced by guidance on behaviour emerging from government which is firmly rooted in twentieth century concepts around discipline of children, ideas largely displaced by current research on the neurobiology of human development. This has resulted in many schools attempting to manage behaviour with strategies that robust current research indicates are actively bad for children’s ongoing, and lifelong, mental health and wellbeing. So we see rigid tariff systems of sanctions replacing, or, incongruously (and harmfully) running alongside, restorative approaches of recovery and repair. This move away from authoritative and towards authoritarian response styles during this time of collective trauma and chaos can only deepen the moral dissonance disrupting the mental health and wellbeing of staff and leaders.

Authoritarian structures are brittle – they seem strong, but under pressure they fracture. And then came the coronavirus pandemic. Since 2020 the environment in which our schools and communities operate has been one of profound collective trauma and widespread chaos and confusion. There have been ten Secretaries of State for Education since 2010, and five of these have been appointed since September 2021. During pandemic schools were required to keep doing their job, while guidance and regulations on how that job could be done shifted and changed, sometimes on what seemed a daily basis.

Under these conditions moral dissonance, which deprives us of authenticity and delight but enables us to function, can give way to overt moral injury, a form of trauma that can leave us profoundly injured and unable to function. This is very evident across our society now as school leaders and school staff are leaving the profession they love, or taking strike action as a desperate expression of the harm they, and their children and young people, are suffering. The profession is devastated, but the seeds of that devastation have been gestating over many years. It is vital that we find a way to move beyond this, and we have already been given a route map if we choose to take it.

Imagine IF – Ken Robinson’s vision for an education system that could create a future for us all

… and setting this vision in the context of recovery and resilience in a time of collective trauma

Ken Robinson died in 2020, and asked his daughter Kate to complete the project he had undertaken to produce a synthesis of his ideas, a concise manifesto for the future of education. This emerged in 2022 as “Imagine IF: Creating a future for us all”. At the heart of this brief statement of an immense creative vision is his passionate plea for an education system that is fit for purpose.

He proposes that education has four key developmental purposes – personal, cultural, economic and social – and that to fulfil these purposes education needs to be organised into disciplines rather than subjects, allowing for the creativity of interdisciplinary learning and the making of connections that underpins all human development and learning.

From examining his four key purposes he identifies eight core competencies to be integrated into every aspect of the curriculum: curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure, citizenship.

Education is now taking place in the context of ongoing and relentless collective trauma, and trauma recovery for all of us is an everyday necessity if our children and young people are to survive and thrive. If we place Ken Robinson’s vision in the context of trauma recovery informed practice, we can reorder his core competencies to take account of human neurobiological development and of trauma recovery.

Stabilisation-integration-adaptation is a fundamental pattern that occurs in healthy human development. This pattern is replayed in recovery from trauma, can be seen in all restorative experiences, and emerges seamlessly from the core competencies envisaged (and envisioned) by Ken Robinson. Human development and trauma recovery involve every aspect of our nervous system, our emotional brain and our cognitive brain – sensing, feeling and thinking – at each cyclical phase of development and of recovery.


  • Compassion
    • We are born to connect and care, we need connection right from birth to develop and sustain brain function, and we develop a neural circuit for compassion
      • Sensing – nervous system alignment and trust provide a sense of safety and enable the development of empathy
  • Composure
    • Connecting to others allows co-regulation, which then enables the brain to develop self-regulation
      • Feeling – emotional stabilisation enables the development of inner harmony and balance
  • Communication
    • Language enables processing and regulating of emotions
      • Thinking – understanding and being understood develops self-regulation which enables the development of metacognition for lifelong learning


  • Curiosity
    • Connection with others provides sensory and emotional stability and the brain begins to seek pattern and meaning and purpose
      • Feeling – sensory exploration stimulates interest and endless questions providing the motivation and energy for learning
  • Creativity
    • Self-regulating and pattern-seeking release the brain to become innovative
      • Feeling – integration of the sensory world with the energy of feelings enables the generation and testing of new ideas
  • Criticism
    • Safe connectedness and language development enable analytical skills to develop
      • Thinking – developing understanding and forming reasoned arguments enables the giving and receiving of feedback


  • Collaboration
    • With stability and integration in place, connectedness extends into co-operative relationships across a wider community
      • Sensing – growing social responsiveness enables collaborative learning and collective action
      • Feeling – connectedness stimulates our internal reward system and creates joy in living
  • Citizenship
    • Wider social relationships enable the development of shared responsibility and participation
      • Feeling – discovering a place and a role in the world generates self-esteem
      • Thinking – exploring connectedness to individuals, to groups and to wider society develops a sense of shared purpose and meaning

This is an urgent call to action. Our children and young people are suffering with anxiety and depression at an alarming level, substance misuse, self-harm and violence are also increasing, and all these are indicators of the trauma affecting a whole generation. But this trauma is not confined to one generation in society or in the education system. Staff are burning out and leaving the profession, or carrying on at great personal cost and with a grim determination that often makes the joy of being an educator seem like a distant dream. Parents are often overwhelmed and bewildered by the relentless pressures of caring for their children while navigating the intense anxiety of a society deeply enmeshed in collective trauma and chaos.

We need to recover. We need to recover together. We need to recover every day in this ongoing collective trauma. And, as Ken Robinson so wisely understood, with this vision our schools can be at the heart of our community, and at the heart of our recovery. Enabling each other to stabilise, integrate and adapt liberates a fundamental human pattern of development and recovery for each one of us and for all of us collectively. And this can take place right here, right now in every interaction, in every relationship and in every classroom