I have rarely, if ever, felt so empowered to improve my own teaching and to help others improve theirs. I have just spent two days at the Sunday Times Festival of Education, and it was simply amazing.
I have to be honest and say that festivals are not normally my kind of thing. In my limited experience of them, they seem to have involved standing in long queues waiting for something that falls somewhat short of satisfying – a band that’s barely audible or visible, a burger that’s barely cooked, or a chance to use a toilet that’s simply unbearable. So, I must admit that I almost binned the Festival flyer without even reading it. So glad I didn’t …
This was a whole different type of festival. For a start, it was hosted by Wellington College: a totally amazing venue with fantastic facilities. I was really impressed by how well-organised everything was: there was so much going on, and yet everything went so smoothly. Well, almost everything … Michael Gove was “struck in traffic” and kept us all waiting for over an hour. Wellington College to the rescue! The headmaster, Dr Anthony Seldon, conducted an impromptu interview with Jimmy Mulville, whose children are at the school. Jimmy is best known for creating the TV series “Have I got news for you”, and he shared various amusing anecdotes about the guests who have appeared on the show. One delegate left in disgust, and it transpired that she was the wife of Alistair Campbell, who had just been characterised as someone in need of a little humanising. The rest of us were unaware of this as we laughed at Jimmy’s largely gentle humour. We were then treated to a second impromptu interview with one of TV’s “Tough Young Teachers” and with the creator of the “Teach First” programme which was featured in this. The atmosphere was already much improved by this point, but then Dr Seldon and various sponsors cracked open a few cases of wine, and we all found we weren’t so bothered about Gove’s late arrival after all …
And when the great man did appear. He did not get booed, slow-clapped or hissed at, and he did not treat his audience of educators with thinly-veiled contempt, all of which I had feared I might witness. Instead there followed an hour of respectful questions and answers in which Gove revealed a far greater grasp of education than I had previously credited him with, and far greater respect for teachers too. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that he won over his audience entirely, but he certainly made a much better impression on us than I would ever have expected.
There was a fantastic vibe at the whole event: I spoke with a diverse range of people with all sorts of different interests in education, and yet we all seemed to be equally excited about learning, and equally stimulated to improve our practice. The positivity of everyone I met was a great advert for the profession, and left me feeling truly invigorated – which is no mean feat at this stage in the year!
In due course I hope to share insights from the various workshops, lectures and panel events I attended. There was so much to see, hear and do, that I had to forego many opportunities I know I would have enjoyed. I would have been really interested to hear Michael Wilshaw, Kenneth Baker, Estelle Morris, David Blunkett, Melvyn Bragg, Andrew Adonis, Ruby Wax, David Baddiel, Ian Livingstone, Lauren Child, Rob Coe, Rachel Jones, Dan Edwards, Geoff Barton, Laura McInerney, Kris Boulton, Joe Kirby, Tom Sherrington and of course Johhny Ball (a childhood hero of mine). Richard Dawkins and David Starky were also at the Festival.
So, who did I get to see, and what were they talking about?
Putting Evidence to work – Kevan Collins
Helping Children find words – Hywel Roberts
What’s worth learning today? – Guy Claxton
How not to get sacked – Jeremy Sutcliffe, Brian Lightman, Christine Goodyear, Stuart Westley, Dame Alison Peacock & Tim Hands
The Trivium – Martin Robinson
Is AfL wrong? – Dylan Wiliam and David Didau
Military ethos: better outcomes for young people – Shaun Bailey
Growing a love of learning in your school – David Starbuck
The teenage brain – Sarah-Jane Blakemore
How stories teach children to think – Pete Worley
How do we develop the world’s best teachers? – David Weston
Forum on teenage mental health – Rachel Kelly, Charlie Taylor, Tanya Byron & Ian Morris
How to demonstrate progress – Claire Gadsby
That’s a lot of food for thought! I was exhausted by the end of each day – but totally buzzing at the same time. If you’d like to know more about any of the above sessions, I do plan to share, in bitesize chunks, a little of what I learned from all these fantastic people …