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London Festival of Education

March 2nd, 2015

Last Saturday saw the IOE play host to the London Festival of Education. I attended with some colleagues from other ETSA schools and found the day thought- (and discussion) provoking. The morning began with a session in the style of Question Time with a panel consisting of Natalie Bennett (Green), Sam Gyimah (Con) and Tristram Hunt (Lab). The question which really got the audience going was ‘Where are you getting your advice from?’ The panel addressed this with varying degrees of conviction but unfortunately failed to address the second part of the question which was to do with retention. There’s no other time of the year that throws this issue into the spotlight like the middle of the spring term and it would have been great to hear the panel’s ideas about how to retain and recruit great teachers. I’d also hope to ask a question of something even closer to home – the future of teaching schools, but alas the microphone never made it to me.

Later in the day I attended a session about 21st Century Leadership where each panellist was asked to describe the three things they believed to be key to effective leadership. The answer I found most interesting was from headteacher, Rebecca Cramer who offered: a deep understanding of what needs to be done and how to do it; an emotional availability – be present and ready to listen and be able to talent spot, hire and nurture great staff. It was the second point which really struck a chord with me – schools are about people on every level and yet I think we often overlook and underestimate how important it is to care about our staff as well as our students. In the coming months when budget restriction will make problem-solving more difficult, it will be more important than ever to ensure people feel heard, even if their issue cannot be solved in the way one would hope to.

Tom Sherrington’s response to the same question was focused on trusting teachers to do the best job possible without grading lessons and linking pay to performance. This led nicely to another session entitled ‘Is it time to trust teachers to succeed?’ Panellists this time included Sean Harford, Estelle Morris, Bernard Trafford and Pasi Sahlberg. Although issues of accountability, responsibility and Ofsted were discussed for an hour, I can’t help but think Estelle Morris summed it up when asked – have we put in place the things teachers need in order to do their job well? In a climate of constant change, this answer is probably not quite. I couldn’t help thinking about how liberating it would be to have the opportunity to embed the new curriculums and assessments in order to be sure that teachers had the structures needed to get on with the job they love without anyone looking over their shoulder. And as, Sean Harford pointed out, it’s important to remember that this is not a broken a system. The number of professionals offering up their precious Saturday was evidence of this alone.