Monday, 23 June 2014

Festival of Education

I was persuaded by @Arakwai to come to the Festival of Education. I have enjoyed the science festival and sessions in the Bristol festival of ideas, so I was keen to go along.

The first session I went to was Andrew Andonis. There was no description of what he was going to talk about in the programme, but I decided I wanted to hear what he had to say about himself anyway. I wasn't disappointed.

I was impressed that Andrew Adonis seemed to speak clearly without notes. I think this is the way that Labour politicians approach speeches these days? Both myself and my OH are teachers and we discuss the state of education under the Tories a lot. He works with students who are 'hard to reach' and is concerned by the pressure on them to go to university as the only route. So when Andrew Adonis talked about the improvement in number and access to apprenticeships as being the next step Labour would have taken I nearly punched the air in agreement.

I also agree with Lord Andonis about teacher training. Separating teacher training from universities isn't going to make the profession more respected or professional.

Due to the number of questions the session over ran and I didn't go to anything in the next slot. Instead I went into the Pearson tent. Interesting, they are using research to influence their products. I was told that the literacy in exploring science: working scientifically was tested in a RCT. I was interested in this, because I feel that as a head of department the resources in the scheme of work have the opportunity to influence the teaching within the department, rather like UpD8 SEGUE has had a massive influence on me. I await to see what Pearson produce.

After a hot chocolate, which was the biggest disappointment of the day (get a Barista Machine Wellington College), we went to a panel discussion about maths. Panel discussions are, for me, what make festivals tick and I found this one disappointing. I did discover that if we improve the maths level of the lowest achievers then we can massively increase GDP. 11% of our young people don't reach PISA's level 1.

Then (fortuitously) a speaker didn't turn up so went to lunch early to avoid the queues. The Paul Rankin burger was lush. Then Arakwai (not her real name) saw via twitter that there was an impromptu panel debate about research and research leads and involving Tom Bennet. So we strode off towards the spiritual room. The session raised more questions about how to turn teaching into a research lead profession. Questions that even the introduction of research leads into schools don't currently answer, but hope to in the future. I can't speak for the wider education community, but it was clear from the room that there is an appetite for teachers to be more involved with research. I was interested in the project Harvard are running to try and make links between teachers/schools and research, but (I might be wrong here, there wasn't much description of the project) it sounded like Harvard were linking with specific schools, what about the rest? How do these small scale projects scale up to a national picture? I was itching to ask a question, but people far more interesting and intellectual than I had their hands up, so I let them speak.

After that I dragged Arakwai to see David Starkey, Keith Vass, Claire Fox and Katie Hopkins in a panel debate. I didn't like Katie Hopkins when she was on The Apprentice and that opinion has not improved. This debate allowed her the opportunity to be extremely vile and make David Starkey sound like the voice of reason. I found some of the opinions of Claire Fox rather unpleasant too. I hope the panel were booked for their entertainment value rather than their expertise? This isn't something I am used to: When attending the science festival I haven't experienced a debate where the panelists attack each other and make statements with so little evidence or experience to back them up. "I don't want my daughter to sit next to someone naughty" and "we shouldn't educate the bottom 20%  intellectually" are not the best informed statements I have heard. If Katie Hopkins has a problem with the education of her children then she should speak to the school, not take education on in the national media.

Second to last we went to another panel debate on whether students should get a say in what they learn. The debate meandered all over the place. I did get the impression the lady from BBC learning didn't know much about education in the classroom as she spouted the corporate lines. Johnny Ball was an interesting addition to the panel, obviously passionate about education. Most interesting was the student from Wellington where students do have some say in what they learn. Not being restricted by doing GCSEs must help an awful lot when it comes to making a creative curriculum that will inspire your students. I was envious for a moment, but then nervous as the straight jacket to GCSEs at least gives me a benchmark.

Final I went to see Richard Dawkins. Everything can be linked to evolution apparently. I think the speech Alice Roberts did to the ASE about humans and education was much better than what Richard Dawkins had to say. But it was good to hear him talk about the scientific method during the questions at the end. He was much calmer than I was when asked silly questions.

I enjoyed being able to go to so many sessions, however I found that 40 minutes wasn't enough. I am used to at least an hour, and often sessions had only just got going when we had to stop.

The idea of an education festival is a good one. I enjoyed being able to listen to debates that were high above my normal pay grade. I like being able to talk about education without feeling guilty that I am not putting something I have heard about into practice on Monday morning. But most if all it was great to be in an beautiful environment, with people who care about education talking and sharing with passion.

I can't wait for the next one.

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