Review: Telegraph Festival of Education 2016

Experts and influencers from across the UK education scene descended on Wellington College last week for two days of serious CPD

One of the biggest events in the education sector, the Telegraph Festival of Education returned to Wellington College this year full of thought leadership, CPD and networking opportunities. 

The stellar line-up for 2016 included comedian Rory Bremner, author Germaine Greer, former Pop Idol Will Young and outgoing Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, speaking on topics ranging from ADHD to inspection. Experts from across the sector shared their expertise and insight, offering the diverse audience a wide choice over the two days. 

It was great to see so much school-led content, offering real peer-to-peer learning. Lord Wandsworth College gave an insight into their Foundation, a bursary programme that is a significant part of school life, providing places for children who have lost one of both parents through death, divorce or separation. Bursary support in the independent sector, says chaplain Pete Maidment and development officer Kate Chernyshov, is worth seven times more than Children in Need and its power to change lives needs to be communicated more. Pete offered some advice on allocating foundation places, including evaluating need properly to avoid abuse of the system, and looking for potential instead of simply selecting the smartest children. Finally, he reminded us, bursaries are not about assuaging guilt about privilege – they can, in Lord Wandsworth’s case, be a school’s USP. 

Headline partners Microsoft hosted the Microsoft Showcase in the school library, where delegates learned about the latest edtech trends including Micro:bit, Minecraft, Windows 10 and the flipped classroom over the two days. Over at the BBC Teach tent, students got hands-on with the Micro:bit and other gadgets (below).

Later in the day, we attended a panel discussion on supporting young people into adulthood. On the panel was Jane Lunnon, head of Wimbledon High, Helen Fraser, outgoing CEO of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) and Dr Ellie Cannon, resident GP for the Mail on Sunday. Helen Fraser opened the discussion by acknowledging that it’s difficult to be a young person in the 21st century and schools have a huge responsibility to look after their students’ wellbeing. Young people, particularly girls, put themselves under pressure to be ‘perfect’ which is linked to a fear of failure, and this follows them out of school and into the workplace. Jane Lunnon, who was Deputy Head at Wellington before moving to Wimbledon High, says we are ‘living in an age of anxiety’ and quotes Adrian Mole as an “iconic exploration of the pain of adolescence and growing up”. Despite growing pressures, she adds, today’s teenagers are the most well-behaved since before the 60s, more likely to ride bicycles and drink lattes than ‘down bottles of vodka and go for a joyride’. The answer? All agree that messages from schools and parents are ‘muddy’ as being ‘good’ is linked to avoiding failure rather than being well-behaved or skilled. The panel recommends that schools encourage failure so that children are not so risk-averse, despite pressure to achieve good exam outcomes.

Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner, attended the Festival to discuss his vision for the education system over the next six years. His ‘2022 vision’ will be built on collaboration, leadership and governance as he is tasked with converting all good and outstanding school to academy status. Read more about Sir David’s speech in our full review. 

By the second day, teachers and students alike were reacting to the news that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. A statement from under-18 students at the Festival expressed their disappointment at the result and not having a voice. It read: “We 13 to 17 year-olds, who have our whole lives ahead of us, and who will now have to observe the EU from a distance, were denied a vote. How wrong it seems, that our voices are being treated so unequally.” 

That didn’t stop the festival atmosphere, however, as the sun returned and delegates got hands-on at workshops and exhibitions. Take a look at some of the highlights below. See you next year!