Durham Cathedral Institute

Launched in 2022, the Institute hosts public discussion and debate on the principal political, economic, social, ethical and spiritual issues of our times, with and for the people of the North East.

What is the Durham Cathedral Institute?

The Institute hosts events on the floor of the cathedral, where national and international experts discuss and debate the most pressing issues of our times, answering questions from members of the public. Ranging from politics and ethics to social and spiritual issues, topics for each debate are chosen with particular significance for the people and communities of the North East.

Institute events are open to everyone and include a substantial section of Q&A.

Building upon centuries of learning

Durham has always been a place of intellectual enquiry - up to and beyond the decisive role of Bishop William van Mildert in founding Durham University in 1832. The Institute builds upon centuries of learning, deep and generous listening, and collective discernment.

We are keen to hear from residents, school groups, business leaders, students, and anyone with a stake in the future flourishing of justice and the common good in the North East region.

Upcoming events in 2023

More about this debate

In 2024, the UK is likely to see a general election and there will be a US presidential election, which could feature Donald Trump as the Republican candidate. As we face a tumultuous period in national and global politics, come to Durham Cathedral to join a discussion with Nick Robinson, one of the country’s leading journalists, and Ed Balls, a former cabinet minister and economist turned commentator.

Our key question will be: what does the future hold for democracy? This cannot be taken for granted: polling shows that support for our system of government is at an historically low ebb, including among young people. In the UK, Brexit uncertainty, Covid-19 and ‘partygate’, and five prime ministers in seven years (including the shortest-serving in history) have all impacted public confidence.

In the US, 2021 witnessed the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington, the seat of democratic government, whilst global politics has been marked by the rise of the ‘political strongman’, including Vladimir Putin of Russia, and increasingly autocratic and aggressive regimes.

This is a critical moment for democracy, in the UK and across the world, and we will be examining the key issues.

About the speakers

Nick Robinson is a journalist and presenter on BBC's Today programme. Since 2005, Nick is the BBC's political editor, and during this time he has covered two general election campaigns, the formation of the first coalition in 75 years, along with the referendum for Scottish independence. Nick joined the BBC in 1986 and has worked on This Week, Next Week, Newsround, Crimewatch and Panorama. He has written two books, Live from Downing Street and Election Notebook.

Ed Balls is a broadcaster, writer and economist. He is a regular presenter on ITV's Good Morning Britain and co-hosts the Political Currency podcast, with former Chancellor, George Osborne. Ed is a former Member of Parliament, and was UK Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2011 to 2015, along with serving in the UK Cabinet as Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families from 2007 to 2011. He was the UK Minister for Financial Services between 2006 and 2007, and was the Chief Economic Advisor to the UK Treasury in from 1994 to 2004.

Past Institute Events

Examining Schools: What’s the Future for Secondary Education?

Monday 23 October 2023

The secondary education sector has experienced significant shocks in recent years, with the pandemic severely disrupting pupil learning . The early months of 2023 have seen widespread industrial action by teachers. Unions claim that staff, especially school leaders, face “intolerable pressure” from Ofsted. Teachers’ salaries have fallen in real terms for over a decade whilst workloads have continued to rise. Recruitment and retention in the profession is a significant challenge.

A report in 2022 by the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed that education in the UK is not tackling inequality. The attainment gap between children from disadvantaged and affluent backgrounds has remained constant over the last ten years, despite major efforts to redress the balance.

In October 2022, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers reported on the financial crisis besetting many schools: “Schools are cut to the bone. This will mean cutting teaching hours, teaching assistants and teachers.” The Revd Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Community Learning which runs 52 Academies nationally, has expressed his frustration at projected governments cuts in an interview with the Observer. He said: “Any government that neglects the welfare and education of its children had better be saving up for its future mental health and benefits bills, and investing in the justice system.”


Dame Rachel de Souza is Children’s Commissioner for England. She is one of the country’s leading educationalists, a former headteacher, and the founding Chief Executive of the Inspiration Trust, a multi-academy trust based in Norwich. As Children’s Commission, Dame Rachel is tasked with protecting and promoting the rights of children, particularly the most vulnerable. Over the last 18 months, she has been particularly concerned with research into children’s online safety.

Sir Jon Coles is Group Chief Executive of United Learning, a group of over 80 academies and independent schools and one of the largest charities in the UK. Prior to this appointment, Jon spent 15 years at the Department for Education, the last four on its Board as Director General for Schools and for Education Standards. He was previously Director of 14-19, leading work to increase participation in education and training post-16, and Director of London Challenge, developing and implementing the much-copied strategy to improve schools in London. Jon has Chaired the education charity Challenge Partners since its inception in 2011, is a trustee of The Prince’s Teaching Institute, and a Council Member of King’s College, London.

The Rt Revd Paul Butler has been Bishop of Durham since 2014. Bishop Paul sits in the House of Lords and is particularly concerned with issues relating to families, poverty and immigration. He is currently the lead Bishop for education and is Chair of The Church of England Education Office, also known as The National Society. This body oversees the Church’s extensive work in education. Approximately 1 million children attend Church of England schools. There are 1,535 Church of England academies with 254 Multi Academy Trusts holding Church of England Articles. This makes the Church of England the biggest provider of academies in England.