Educating Berkshire

EDQ Managing Editor Hannah Oakman reports from the recent Sunday Times Festival of Education, held at a sunny Wellington College

Festival goers from across the world of education donned their sun hats and factor 30 for the recent Sunday Times Festival of Education, held at the prestigious Wellington College in Berkshire. As a media sponsor for the first time this year, our team were all set to explore everything on offer.

The event boasted two packed days of talks, demonstrations, workshops and more. From an entertaining steam punk fashion show by Leeds City College to top chef Paul Rankin demonstrating his gourmet burger cooking skills on the Sodexo stage, it was a real mixture of high-end educative talks from teachers working at the coal face today, commercial companies such as Facebook and Sky Sports sharing their expertise in education to celebrity speakers from David Baddiel, Johnny Ball, Lauren Child, Alvin Hall, Jodie Marsh, David Starkey, Ruby Wax and more.

Big political hitters from education also set out their stalls, although they may not have taken advantage of the on-site glamping on offer, including current Education Secretary Michael Gove himself, Estelle Morris, David Blunkett, Matthew Hancock, Tristam Hunt and Keith Vaz. The event was obviously a key platform for them to engage with teachers, students and parents in one place.

There were far too many sessions to get around but one which caught my eye was housed in the stunning Chapel: a talk on the gamification of learning (‘More than just child’s play?’) from one of the founding fathers of the gaming industry, Ian Livingston. He described us as now living on the “Planet of the Apps” and talked about how parents and teachers should really be embracing gaming in schools. “Games are good for you; they have social, cultural and motivational qualities,” he explained. “They enhance fun while learning, are intuitive to young people and promote problem solving at the same time.”

He revealed that more than 200 schools in the UK now use Minecraft as a digital learning tool to create whole new worlds, share them with peers and write creatively about them. “Of course, there has to be balance in life but games-based learning should sit alongside other learning methods, as it is so relevant to students in their digital world.”  

A further interesting and completely different talk came from Sky Sports Living for Sports Ambassador and former Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell.

Part of the Sky Academy, the sports initiative is aiming to help over a million pupils by 2020, by coaching young people to believe in themselves and be better prepared for the workplace through teamwork and sports training. From eight athlete mentors at the start, there is now a team of 94 working across the UK with a range of pupils. Darren’s talk, in which he highlighted his disadvantaged background growing up in Birmingham, and his desire to one day win an Olympic medal after watching Carl Lewis as a young boy, was truly inspiring and a big hit with the crowd.

Another great initiative at this year’s festival came from Facebook, which ran a series of seminars in the Facebook Zone. In the run up to this year’s event, Facebook has been working with The Education Foundation and education leaders from institutions from across the UK to build a new toolkit for teachers about using social media in the classroom. The resources – which will be housed in a print guide and on an online portal (EduSocial) – will include hints and tips and case studies of schools using social media innovatively to enhance the way that kids are taught, homework delivered and projects planned and completed. There was also a focus on anti-bullying, encouraging people to sign up to be an Anti-Bullying Ambassador, part of the Diana Award charity.

There were also a lot of fun things at this year’ festival; from vegetables wired up to play electronic instruments to ‘film your own VT’ with the BBC News School Report team, scuba diving tanks and ski slopes for beginners.

I believe it’s this mixture of high-brow speakers, hot topics and enjoyable entertainment which will keep festival goers attending the show for years to come.

Watch our highlights video here