Neatly illustrating the power of collaboration to make the whole more than the sum of its parts, the choir from Harrop Fold School got the conference off to an uplifting start. Their powerful renditions of songs - One Vision, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, and Ain’t No Stopping Us Now – gave clear messages to the audience. The focus of all our work is on young people. Their standing ovation was richly deserved.
With a fifth of the country’s looked after children based in the North West the keynote speaker, poet Lemn Sissay, was living proof of the importance of schools especially for the most vulnerable children. He gave a powerful rendition of his poem, Belong. Fostered and living in children’s homes, school was more regular than his home life. He spoke fondly of the headteacher who gave him a book of Merseybeat poetry, and his English teacher Mr Unsworth, who would critique his early poems after school and who attended Lemn’s recent inauguration as Chancellor of Manchester University. The influence of teachers.
The day was full of powerful ideas from practitioners from the North West region as well as national figures. Headteacher Drew Povey shared the relevance of Steve Covey’s phases of development, going from dependence to independence and ultimately interdependence, to the school-led system. David Watson, the North West representative on the Teaching School Council, spoke of the need to improve governance of teaching school alliances and for more people to step up to develop the school-led system.
Participants attended two from a selection of 15 interesting sessions on a range of topics, and they were able to see key points from others though the activity of the graphic facilitators, who made visual representations of many of the sessions to form a huge cartoon on the wall.
There were sessions on leadership, governance, structure, and capacity, with contributions from thinkers such as Joe Hallgarten, Robert Hill, Andy Kent and Sean Cavan. David Weston shared ideas on professional development, and there were examples of successful practice in assessment without levels as well as closing the gap from schools such as Sir William Stanier. Yasin Khan’s session on the “Prevent” strategy examined disturbing cases of young people who had been radicalised.
Moving new knowledge and skills across the system was a key strand of the conference. Neuroscience is one area where relevant new discoveries are being made. Janet Rose’s session highlighted the importance of understanding how the brain works and develops, especially in relation to understanding children’s behaviour. While pseudo-science in this field has long plagued the education arena, major strides have now been made in, for example, understanding the role of mirror neurones in children’s socialisation.
The exhibitors at the conference showcased much that was innovative and useful, through systems such as Blippit, Tootoot and Filio, schemes such as Commander Joe’s, working with charities such as Rebuilding Schools Nepal, and drawing on information from The Key.
A fitting grand finale to the day was provided by a panel, whose distinguished members were Dr John Wm Stephens, Lead for Teaching Schools and School Improvement at NCTL; Lemn Sissay, keynote speaker; Frank Green, the National Schools Commissioner; and Professor Sam Twiselton, Director of Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University. TV and Radio presenter Andy Crane skilfully managed the panel.
The audience shared their views on the panel questions by using electronic voting devices. The results were displayed instantly for all to see. A third of the audience used their votes to agree that the changes to the Ofsted inspection framework had made the organisation more credible to schools, but 30% asserted ‘I have no confidence in Ofsted at all’. Sam Twiselton described it rather forcefully as ‘a disease in the system’ and cited places such as Ontario where accountability worked well without such an inspection machine.
Considering the statement, ‘I feel confident in my role in developing character and resilience in children and young people’, 37% of the audience strongly agreed, 44% agreed and 12% somewhat agreed. After listening to the views of panellists, this changed to 45% strongly agreeing and 47% agreeing. Frank Green laid emphasis on teachers structuring what they do in a way that can develop not only the academic but also the physical and spiritual sides of young people. John Stephens spoke about the importance of fostering leadership in young people and encouraging them to take risks in order to develop resilience. He struck a warm note with his acknowledgement of the audience: “It is your day-to-day efforts that make the difference to young people”.
And in conclusion - after just days in his job as the new chair of the National College for Teaching and Leadership - Roger Pope congratulated the organisers, not only on what he described a splendid conference, but on schools in the North West for stepping up to take responsibility not just for their own children but for everyone’s. As the choir reminded us, there Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.
Dr Sara Bubb