Festival of Education – Day 1

I went to the Sunday Times Festival of Education this week; this is my recap of day 1 (and some general stuff)!

Wellington College is a really beautiful place – gorgeous buildings and a real ‘old school’ feel. And by that I mean it was like every other independent school I’ve been to (no joke, and I’ve been to plenty!). Buildings that block mobile signal and WiFi, huge expanses of green space and new buildings hidden in the woods. Not criticising (well maybe about the wifi/signal) but the place was big enough that the map was necessary and frustratingly upside down. I have a love/hate relationship with these types of schools. I love the way every building and room has a history and its own idiosyncrasies, but I hate that the naming and layout is illogical and senseless to me. I also felt a lot of the rooms were undersized for the presentations they held. That all said, I love being in the countryside at at places like this and I felt the burning desire to play cricket on that lovely looking wicket…

Running an event this big is tricky I’m sure, and to be honest I think the people who did it have done an excellent job. Registration was a breeze and the schedule was nice and clear. However I found it increasingly frustrating that the map and plans for the days were placed seemingly randomly in the event programme. I would also stress that (if anyone important in organising these things reads this) it is incredibly important to make sure you have blurbs about sessions, not just speaker profiles. There are limited slots to see things and session titles are often no help (I see a session on Day 2 called ‘Education, Education, Education.’ – this tells me NOTHING I didn’t already know) It is disappointing to settle into an (often overcrowded session) only to discover it was not what you thought, especially if you chose it over a different session. I was lucky today and it only happened once, unfortunately a friend had it happen 3 times…

An event app like the one from BETT would have been a nice touch, and something other than advertising in the event bag would also have been a refreshing change.


9:10 – Hywel Roberts Imagineering Creativity
So the first thing I wrote down in this session was ‘CHARISMA’. And this guy exudes that from every pore. I hold myself to a high standard for presentations, both in design and practice and Hywel blew what I do out the water. His presentation was full of little gems for the classroom, some of which would make no sense out of context, but WOW. I hope I’m not doing a diservice by pulling out a couple of things I found as running themes.

  1. Creativity is all around us and should be genetic in education not an add on.
  2. Tension, melodrama, authentic fakes, theatricality all have a place in education when you use them right
  3. As a teacher you project student experience onto the curriculum1

Thank you Hywel for reminding me about question scripts and banter for learning. Cracking session.

10:00 – Panel Discussion The Future of E-Learning
Panel: Daphne Koller, Doug Ricahrd, Rohan Silva, Martin Bean. Chaired by Anthony Seldon
This session was interesting, but ultimately I took very little away. Key points I found were:

  • The head of the OU believes exams are ‘barking mad’ and we need to ‘attack assessment’ once we establish better learning protocols with technology
  • Tech should never be rolled out into education without appropriate support
  • Daphne believes technology allows people to communicate and empowers them; this is a suitable replacement for the relationships in the classroom
  • Rohan believes that British education si being left behind in technology deployment
  • Rohan believes that Sal Khan is a wonderful teacher
  • Daphne advocates ‘blended’ not ‘flipped’ learning
  • The head of the OU is strongly in favour of ‘appropriate use of technology’

No written judgments from me. Anyone who knows me well will know how I feel about some of those statements.

11:30 – Took a little break
Because I was hot and tired and had queued for half an hour for a coffee and a croissant and some fruit (extortionately priced I might add) and I wanted to eat it. This turned out to be a good plan as once I had sat down on a sofa there was no getting me up for a while.

12:20 – Reuben Moore Do the ‘simple’ things well and kick for the corners
I feel I’m going to do this gentleman a disservice – his presentation was not what I expected. I honestly was not that interested in learning about TeachFirst and while I know more than I do now (outrageous graph non-withstanding), the main thing I took away from this was the drive behind TeachFirst is the same as ever – reduce the achievement gap, help every child succeed, train top graduates for management positions. Done. Oh and the quote is rugby related. I approve.

14:00 – Panel Discussion What is the future for schools?
Panel: Guy Claxton, Daisy Christodoulou, Jan Hodges. Chaired by Ian Fordham
Opening statements:

  • Would like to see teacher training reformed to include cognitive psychology
  • Would like the debate about education to shift from a focus on structure to a focus on practice
  • Would like education to emphasise the important of knowledge and practice for mastery
  • Would like future reforms to have a strong research evidence basis


  • Would like stereotypes about vocational education challenged
  • Would like vocational education integrated for everyone
  • Would like schools to have more specialism and sponsorship from industry


  • Would like to see the UK have a ‘Moral Conversation’ about what they want the outcome of education to be
  • Would like to see clear statements about ‘valued residues or ‘qulaities of character’ endowed by education
  • Would like the focus moved from ‘tinkering with assessment and structures’ as this is ‘beside the point’ and potential a dangerous distraction

We moved on to Q&A:

Q: How can education move forward if it is a political football? Q: Who’s responsibility is it to embed character traits?

Jan: There is correlation between high choice of vocational and low youth unemployment. we cant’t just rely on specialist schools to provide this.

Guy: Politicians won’t do anything big with education because they are scared of discourse and can only do short term simple things that directly impact the next election. The responsibility has to lie with heads and classroom teachers because the most successful changes start with conversation and ownership. An obvious thing is to be creative about how we chop up time – change the structure of timetabling.

Daisy: Academy freedom is a good thing. Hopefully that freedom can help make things better

Q: What should the outcomes be and how can we get there? Q: what advice should you give to young teachers trying to implement qualities of character but meeting resistance? Q: should HE be downsized?

Daisy: There is more agreement about outcomes than people think, so we can get there – other ed systems have detail we could use. Content/knowledge is important. If faced with resistance from managers young teachers should try to lead by example.

Guy: HE question is a really good one with no ready made answer. Simple things to implement are to talk with students and colleagues about struggles about knowledge, talk about the learning process. Model and use visible thinking routines.

Jan: Thinks flexible study such as flip learning is a forward thinking model and that we will see change in future. She is not sure that HE is up to scratch? Funding for 16-18 is scandalously low.

Q: Will you go see David Laws? How can you predict the future given the change over the last 5 weeks? Also include a closing remark.

Jan: While we can not predict but preparation shouldn’t be pigeonholing. Close with the fact that vocational learning is for everyone.

Daisy: Prediction is oversold. Modern developments depends on older things, for example the iPad depends on the alphabet. Closing remarks: Education should prepare students to be citizens. We underestimate the value of knowledge.

Guy: If David Laws calls I will talk to him. Close on: BLP success is built on choice to do it not by being forced to by government. Much of what we learn is changing rapidly. We need to prepare students for the unexpected. Flexible mind is 95% how you were taught 5% what you were taught.

14:50 – Dylan Wiliam Leadership for teacher learning
I was really looking forward to watching Dylan Wiliam speak; his black box research was excellent and he presents in another slightly different style I try to take part of when I’m in front of people.

At this event he was talking about what affects student achievement from the point of view of research evidence and then teacher development. Many of his results were astonishing; leading to his assertion that ‘what works?’ is not the correct question to ask instead we should ask ‘under what conditions does this work?’. He swiftly dealt with measures of effect size and presented a case discussing the impact of feedback – shockingly (maybe not) many studies were unreliable and the results were wildly varied between making student learning better to making it worse! I was particularly taken with his comment that (paraphrased because Dylan says so my much my notes were terrible) feedback relationships and trust with the teacher to be effective – compare with a MOOC anyone?

He moved onto Teacher Quality, something that is both highly variable and highly consequential: Some studies (and see his slides for references, glorious references for which I am so grateful) show that an outstanding practitioner can be up to 400% more effective that a poor one. The best teachers help students learn four times as much as their worst counterpart.

So what can we do, what makes these teachers better, and how can we tell what makes a good teacher? – Dylan Wiliam presented that it is not (measurably) subject knowledge. The impact of better subject knowledge is low or even negative for some disciplines; better subject knowledge does not imply better teachers.

What good teachers do was addressed next, and this was very new to me – the comparison with what the best measures say impact pupil progress and what the actual impact of the best teachers are. I’m hoping I reproduce this well.

Basically what we can observe as domains of professional practice and how well teachers do this impacts very little on their progress. Of those that do they account for about 30% improvement between the best and worst. If you don’t follow, ask I will give another go at explaining, or see Dylan’s slides. Whilst on the subject of lesson observations we were treated to a masterclass in how little observations tell us, and the conclusion that to get a 90% confidence in a judgement of how good a teacher is requires over 30 hours of observation by at least 5 different observers. Realistically this makes OFSTED judgments a pointless exercise; as Dylan so eloquently put ‘I might as well show you five seconds of a football match and ask you who won?’

So to make teachers better, what do we need? Well Dylan argues that experience is not the key, but practice is. The best and worst teachers regress to a mean over the first few years of teaching, with the worst teachers improving greatly and the best almost flat lining – because once they have mastered the challenge of surviving the classroom, what more is there? Couple this with the fact that measuring teacher value added is difficult, not least because teacher impact reaches up to three years after they stop teaching.

In a comparison with musicians and surgeons, the very best were not defined by talent (something Dylan believes to be overrated, and I am inclined to agree; I shiver when people tell me teachers are born not made) but by determined practice and experimentation on things that they had not yet mastered. They worked on what they could not so until they could do it right. So they way to make teachers better is to have teachers who are passionate about learning and improving; not just to recruit those with top class subject knowledge.

Dylan gave a fantastic talk and subtly threw a few punches at policy.2

Awesome session I am sure I have not done justice.

16:30 – Michael Gove Interview by David Aaronovitch
It’s been nine months (give or take) of blogging and I don’t think I’ve bought him up once. That’s a conscious thing. I have the draft posts but they are no going up in the foreseeable future because 1) out of date and 2) this blog isn’t about politics. I’m going to try to avoid the letting my opinion shine through too much.

I thought it was clear Mr. Gove is an intelligent guy and he dealt very well with the banter from his interviewer; however those folks tweeting about him being worked over may have been watching a different interview to me; to me it felt more like friendly ribbing than clinical interview strategy. I am glad that Mr. Gove has confirmed a rework of the History Curriculum that caused so much outrage and I hope that his department take into account any feedback they get, positive or negative, from the latest consultancy process.

Unfortunately I felt that something that could have been powerful and meaningful – the student questions – was lost in a sea of salesmanship for the group that organised them. The general Q&A was entertaining as one would expect, (people airing complaints about policy without a real question, people agreeing and complimenting policy without a question etc.) though I did feel sorry for the young lady asking about art funding – unfortunately I felt that her good point was lost in the way she asked the question and allowed Mr. Gove to let the real crux of the problem – funding for teacher training – slide past.

I regret not standing up to ask my question earlier in the session, as I missed my opportunity to ask Mr. Gove to have conversations with teachers. No more shall be said on the subject unless I get the chance to have a cuppa with the man.

Reflection on the day
The whole day was a really valuable experience and I would totally recommend anyone to go, I’m glad I got the day off to attended the Friday and am looking forward to the Saturday. roll on Johnny Ball and Marcus du Sautoy.

1: See Dewey (1902) “His problem is that of inducing a vital and personal experiencing. Hence, what concerns him, as teacher, is the ways in which that subject may become part of experience”

2: ‘Performance related pay is only guaranteed to do two things; Make administration harder and piss everyone off!’

This entry was posted in Conferences, Pedagogy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Festival of Education – Day 1

  1. Pingback: Festival of Education – Day 2 | Maths is Not a Spectator Sport

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