The Festival of Education is a 2-day festival that has been running for 12 years. It takes place in the beautiful grounds and French Grand Rococo buildings of Wellington College, boasts over 400 speakers, and attracts over 5,000 attendees. Wellington College is a public school (which in the UK means it’s old and fee-paying) in Crowthorne, Berkshire. It’s about an hour outside of London. It is for students aged between 13 and 18 and really has the most incredible facilities; it’s more like a grand university campus than how people imagine a school. This year, I was lucky enough to attend, thanks to my school and my being part of the Artsmark team. I went intending to see how well the arts were represented, and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed.
I have to admit I was somewhat flagging. So near the end of term, it felt like another challenge and I was looking forward to the thought of not setting my alarm the following week. My colleague snapped me out of it, who in the taxi on route to the festival said ‘I’m really looking forward to learning something.’ Why hadn’t I embraced that thought? Come on Arty Teacher – get your head in gear.
On the first day, I went to 4 sessions. The day followed a school structure with ‘periods’ and ‘break-time’. The first session I chose was ‘A Community Approach to Building a Fair Education System for All‘ The speakers highlighted the gap between rich and poor in achievement and how the community around a school can help. They spoke very positively about what they had achieved but also about the barriers to change. At the end, members of the audience described a system that allows children to fall through the gaps thanks to the lack of communication between those organisations. With my teacher hat on, it left me thinking that I should do more for my community. With my ‘Arty Teacher’ hat on, it left me questioning who was my community in my digital world and how do I help?
The day’s highlight was Period 2 and Michael Morpurgo’s ‘How to Put Creativity at the Heart of the Curriculum’. However, the session title was misleading, as it would have been better billed as ‘an audience with Michael Murpurgo’. Why was it inspiring? When you listen to someone talk passionately about education and the importance of switching children on to reading, you can’t help but be inspired. It made me want to be more passionate about my teaching, reminding me of my feelings when I first entered teaching. Full of anecdotes and even a song, he had the audience eating out of his hand. Quite the performer. Brilliant.
After this session, I headed to the festival organiser’s building. I gave them my business card, telling them they needed me next year to speak about the importance of art in the National Curriculum. It would have been the perfect follow-up to this talk. Watch this space.
Next, I went to ‘Five Things that will change in Education in the Next 10 Years and Five Things that Won’t.’ A tempting title that lured me in. The speaker was Sir Anthony Seldon, a historian and former head of Brighton College and Wellington College and former vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham. He was an excellent, relaxed speaker who first asked us to write down what we thought would change and wouldn’t change, so we could then compare our list with his. He talked about AI, exams, schools buildings, the environment, and I’m pleased to say he included ‘Sport, the arts, volunteering, leadership and trips will remain, but be available for all children’ That was good to hear. You can see his complete list here.
The last session of the day for me was ‘STEM and Creativity – Skills for the Future’ by Unboxed. The people from Unboxed were promoting their 10 ‘STEM and Creativity’ events/experiences that are touring the UK. For example, a decommissioned oil rig set is up as an art installation in Weston-super-Mare that will include experiments, performances, gardens and even waterfalls. (I’d like to see this!) They describe all the installations as ‘once in a lifetime’, and they are certainly ambitious, creative and well worth visiting. Go to the website to see what’s near you.
Between each session, I conferred with colleagues. Some had joined me at specific talks; others had seen other things. We were all buzzing with enthusiasm. It was between sessions that you got the festival vibe; glorious sunshine, a beautiful backdrop of the school, the spacious cricket pitch, numerous food outlets to choose from and plenty of teacher-fueling coffee.
I was keen to see author Ross McGill aka ‘TeacherToolkit’. I’ve loved his books as they give you strategies you can immediately employ in the classroom. His talk was billed as ‘The Teacher Toolkit Guide to Memory’, and he was promoting his new book of the same name. He summarised some of the key ideas in the book and succeeded in getting us to remember certain pieces of information by the end of the session by employing his strategies. It was fun to meet him and say hello at the end of the session.
Wow! Is Priya Lakhani OBE switched on? Within minutes you knew that this was an exceptional person doing extraordinary things. A fantastic speaker, fluent and confident with all she was aiming to achieve, no wonder she has a string of awards to her name. Her talk was billed as Education’s Next Frontier – What You Need to Know About the Innovations Transforming Learning and Assessment. She explained how AI was used by her company Century and how it is currently being used by schools. Yes, AI is already being used in schools and is having a huge impact on assessment.
In contrast to the previous talk, and a reminder of the importance of teacher/pupil professional relationships was the talk by my colleague Naomi Lord and her former student and journalist Hadley Stewart. It was titled ‘A Decade of Lesson: In Conversation with a Gay Student and his Former Teacher’. Well attended, the conversation reflected on the importance of making all students feel safe at school and how teachers and the curriculums they deliver can be inclusive. It seems so simple to me that educators should include and celebrate a diverse range of role models for our students.
The Festival of Education is only £100 to attend both days for state schools. It’s £50 for NQTs. That’s an amazing price compared to a majority of Professional Development courses. For that, you get a huge choice of top-notch speakers. Of course, there is also the train fair and hotel cost to consider, and this is what pushes the price up.
I came away feeling rejuvenated and inspired. There was something special about being away from the school environment, with colleagues and having choice rather than specific INSET forced upon me. I highly recommend this educational festival.
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