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The Festival of Education 2016


Kiran Gill (@dkgill) is a freelance policy researcher and education consultant. These are her individual views.  Kiran also writes Edapt's monthly policy bulletin which you can sign up to here.

A "teacher-in-remission’s" take on Wellington

I have to admit to being an education conference sceptic. I often attend events like the Wellington Festival – a pricey ticketed event, held in the middle of term time– with a bit of a chip on my shoulder.  A chip in the shape of all the hard-working colleagues I left at the coal-face when I moved from the classroom to educational policy. Colleagues who couldn’t get the cover or the funding to enjoy this CPD. Colleagues whose reality sometimes feels far removed from educational rhetoric.

So it was with some surprise that I found my presuppositions challenged on Thursday.  Amongst the edu-celebrities, official spokespeople and salespeople, a varied host of practitioners shared their analyses and experiences at the conference.  In the midst of political and policy uncertainty, the moves towards greater professional voice and discussion of concrete classroom practice made me feel inspired and part of an education community.  And through the power of the internet, maybe I can spread a bit of that emotional and practical CPD further – with a blog-snapshot of some sessions I attended.


Pedagogy: Teacher Training

Kris Boulton, a maths teacher, has written before about a new model of teacher development.  He argued that we need to place as much emphasis on teacher knowledge as skill – subject knowledge, but also subject pedagogy knowledge.  How do you design a really effective worksheet?  What are the misconceptions that students are likely to have on this particular topic?  What are the three most useful strategies to get students to understand that process, punctuation or principle? 

I’ve got a lot of time for this.  I’ve recently read a draft of Lucy Crehan’s book on the top educational system’s across the world (she spoke at Wellington on the Friday) and was fascinated by her description of top teachers refining and developing textbooks in Finland, for generations of teachers to initially learn from and latter riff off.

Assessment: Primary Accountability

Next up, Education Datalab Director, Becky Allen, chaired a debate between another two teachers, this time primary specialists.  Jack Marwood argued that examinations have had their day and now are increasingly counterproductive in a primary sector which is overwhelmingly Good+.  Some compelling arguments that KS2 testing is limiting the curriculum; that Ofsted inspections are increasingly halo data-effects; and that low-stakes sample testing could reduce the damage to children’s confidence were all counterbalanced by Michael Tidd.

Michael championed primary tests as raising the sector’s game, especially for deprived children who might otherwise be written off. In fact they might more sensibly raise standards further for this group - Mike floated the intriguing idea that testing of literacy and numeracy ought to happen before the end of a key stage – encouraging schools to get the basics right early, and branch out to a broader curriculum later.  Those low confidence students, he insisted, were often so switched off by school because those basic literacy skills had yet to be mastered by the time they reached late KS2. 

Though keen to keep testing to support Ofsted and governors in their analysis of schools, Michael agreed with Jack that league tables might be usefully removed – arguing that they were used most by affluent parents and thereby exacerbated social segregation rather than improving school accountability.  All in all, a fascinating debate!

Policy: How to Influence Government

My last session of the day was Teach First Executive Director and previous Gove Adviser, Sam Freedman.  His 5 tips for how educational professionals could influence government included doing your homework in terms of the most influential people to approach (political advisers; ministers in favour with No. 10); making it simple in your correspondences (condensing ideas; proffering pre-scripted endorsements); and going with the grain (using government’s language / couching ideas in popular terms).  More novel, he suggested that twitter and blogging was a route to politicians that could bypass bureaucracy or personal connections – a theory which Wellington’s line-up testified.  

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