What a difference a couple of years make. Having now been to The Sunday Times Festival of Education for 4 years a number of things struck me as enormously positive this time around and I will list them in no particular order.
1. The move away from a Saturday, despite initial complaints (bleating on Twitter = bleet) ensured bigger audiences and fuller venues.
2. People stopped being unnecessarily provocative- it was so much more productive in an atmosphere of open discussion rather than headline grabbing ad hominem attacks.
3. The evidence-informed people have begun to understand that they have an audience that is more open than ever to the need for support and valid ideas from the research community. Balance seems to be the key idea here: keep reading, discuss, collaborate, find proper expertise and then take time to embed it.
4. Language matters- so many speakers were seeking the correct terminology and lexicon for difficult concepts and this has to be healthy. There was less goobledegook and jargon than ever before and the profession must continue to find its own voice rather than borrowing from inappropriate contexts.
5. I thought it striking that IT had such a low profile- two or three years ago you could hardly move for the latest gizmo or large computer company saying that they had the solution. IT developers seem to be working more closely with schools and teachers now. Then again, by being at Wellington I was away from a massive EdTech weapons fare in London.
6. Ideas from the past were treated with real respect: the thinking of the ancients was quoted and also used to inform curriculum development; it did not seem unfashionable to sound erudite. This was perhaps the most impressive element of this year’s Conference. Teachers must be philosophers and intellectuals, as well as compassionate carers.
7. By placing Nicky Morgan first it felt very much like we got rid of that bit as soon as possible before moving on to the real meat and then seeking out the marrow.
8. Whatever your views on his ideas Sir Ken Robinson knows how to work an audience.
It seemed that the increased participation of students made for a special atmosphere. Student voice is crucial at conferences and the balance was just right. Hats off to all who hosted, spoke, organised and engaged.