Summer learnin’

The recent Sunday Times Festival of Education certainly happened so fast, says EDQ Editor Stephanie Broad

The Edquarter team were back at Wellington College, Berkshire, for the recent annual Sunday Times Festival of Education. We were treated to a generous side of sunshine to go with the excellent mix of speakers, exhibitors and festival atmosphere.

This year’s programme featured a wide range of thought leadership from homework, schools improvement and research, to well-known figures discussing Shakespeare and MI5, to forward-thinking developments such as using Google in exams and iPad-supported SEN learning. 

Louise Hunter, Joint Festival Director from Summerhouse Education, said of the festival: “This year, we have over 300 speakers over two days and we have 96 sponsors and exhibitors. We have something for everybody here, ranging from primary school students through to serious academics.

“If I was a teacher…I would really take away what the organisers are trying to give us, which is serious CPD. It’s an incredibly eclectic programme, but there is so much for everybody here – whether you’ve got a special interest in special needs, or whether you’re particularly interested in listening to someone like Piers Morgan talk about what he thinks about education – because he has a huge following and a strong view about all sorts of topics. There is just so much CPD here, it’s almost impossible to add it up and say what it would come to at the end of two days.”

Clockwise from top left: festival-goers enjoy the sunshine; school children with their Festival of Education goody bags; children blowing bubbles and rock climbing; Editor Stephanie Broad

“I owe everything to Shakespeare”

Bonnie Greer OBE grew up in Chicago during the civil rights and feminist movements. In her early 20s, she ‘woke up’ to the magic of Shakespeare’s work and dedicated her teaching career to helping other students find that moment. Bonnie spoke to a captivated audience of in the Chapel of how “you walk into a room and say Shakespeare, they’ve gone”, and how her emotional, story-based method helped students understand the text.

Her top tip for teaching teens? Start with Romeo and Juliet for its pure emotion and the gut reactions it can invoke. The session prompted an interesting debate around how teaching Shakespeare can move from an exam-led, formulaic exercise to a holistic, story-first activity.

Bonnie also discussed her approach to giving students’ feedback to teachers and how the education sector needs to “find a mechanism…where students can teach us how to teach them” in a digital-driven world.

Spy insights

One of the most popular talks on the day was by the first ‘female spy chief’ Stella Rimmington, who regaled the large crowd in the main Sir John Cass Foundation Marquee with witty anecdotes of her rise to prominence in MI5. 

A former pupil of Nottingham Girls School, Stella revealed how, at the time she attended school, girls were expected to have “little jobs”, a far cry from what is the norm these days.

As such, she spent time as an archivist before joining her British Diplomat husband on secondment to New Delhi.  It was here that she was first approached to be a part-time clerk and typist for MI5 and the rest, as they say, is history, as she rose to become the first female Director General of the organisation.  This was a fabulous and inspiring talk from an incredibly strong female role model – showing how, despite the challenges, you can balance work and family life to great effect.

The creative conundrum

A further popular speaker at this year’s event was slam poet and artistic director Jacob Sam-la Rose, who spoke eloquently to a gripped audience of teachers about the importance of using poetry as a tool for creative education.

“It’s all too easy to downgrade the importance of the creative experience,” he revealed, citing examples of children who never believed they could create poetry and the start of a workshop really opening up and find their voice by the end. He stressed how important it is to encourage pupils to show their ‘vulnerability’ and stretch themselves creatively, as a means of boosting their whole educational experience.

The exhibitors also made use of the excellent platform for meeting teachers, students and other professionals. We met a robotics whizz, an e-safety entrepreneur and academy trust network – which gives just a flavour of the variety on offer which keeps people coming back every year.    

Keep an eye out for our festival highlights video coming soon!