Amongst the huge range of exhibitors, this year’s Education Show quickly became focused on ever-changing government policy, in the context of the Budget and Nicky Morgan’s ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ whitepaper.
First on the agenda was the DfE’s keynote speech, focused on raising standards in English and maths. Vanessa Pittard, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Standards acknowledged that there had been a lot of change in education policy, which would be underlined by the –at the time – imminent whitepaper. “If there are two subjects that are fundamental for knowledge and culture, it’s maths and English,” Vanessa said, citing a recent OECD survey of adult skills that said strong readers were likely to have 14% higher earnings. This ‘wage premium’ also applies to those who have an A-level in Maths, where individuals can expect an 11% advantage.
Upcoming developments include new assessment for key stage one and two, on-screen times table testing and moving away from levels to ‘scaled scores’. Vanessa says the abolition of traditional levels was due to their ‘inconsistent’ application. A raft of support is planned, including book clubs in primary schools, public libraries, parent guidance and affordable classic books.
Stephen Morales, Executive Director of the National Association for School Business Management (NASBM), spoke about the emergence of corporate structures and leadership in schools. Using a show of hands, Stephen ascertained that around half of the audience were academies or considering becoming an academy. “No school will operate as an island anymore,” he said, as government policy becomes clear – over 20,000 schools will move into the academy model and the roles of Regional School Commissioner (RSC) and local authorities (LAs) changes dramatically.
For schools, the new landscape is more accountability and autonomy, as well as a range of skills to be developed – procurement, HR, marketing, estates and technology to name a few. The NASBM exists to represent the complex role of the school business manager, and has published professional standards as well as offering qualifications.
Stephen’s message to school was clear: know what’s coming, both for the sake of your students and your career. Schools are aware that the time has come to band together, but must be aware of how to manage the new structure.
In between speakers, we took the chance to meet some of the many exhibitors at Education Show. From textbooks to transport, stationery to SEN tools, it was great to see so many expert suppliers in one room.
3P Learning, a multi Bett-award finalist, was in the STEM area to showcase its range of digital learning resources for maths, literacy and science. Newly-launched IntoScience brings science theory to life through an immersive and engaging interactive 3D environment, where key stage three and four pupils can learn, play with and recall their scientific knowledge. Also featured on the stand was Mathletics, designed for pupils aged five to 16 using a game-style challenge and reward system to make learning maths fun. Students can play against students from all over the world, developing a global awareness – during our demonstration, we were pipped to the post by a child playing in Australia!
Tom Rees, head of Simon de Senlis primary school in Northampton, talked in the School Leaders’ Summit about the school’s journey to ‘digital transformation’. Simon de Senlis is part of Northampton Primary Academy Trust and is a Microsoft Showcase School. Tom said that working with Microsoft increases the school’s awareness of the world around us and the skills needed for the future. It’s easy to bury one’s head in the sand and focus on exams, rather than digital, Tom says – and digital is not the ‘answer’, just part of it.
So, how can schools approach a ‘digital transformation’? Tom offered the following advice:
- Have a vision and structure for developing a relevant curriculum
- In the procurement and deployment stage, avoid being distracted by new and ‘shiny’ technology and choose what works best for your students
- Keep up staff momentum and CPD: “For every pound you spend on tech, spend a minute on training,” Tom says.
After an eventful first day, the second was very much focused on responding to the education whitepaper. School behaviour ‘guru’ Tom Bennett kicked the day off with a talk on minimising disruption with good leadership, where he reminded delegates of the whitepaper’s promise to give new headteachers 30 months before Ofsted inspection, giving them a chance to turn performance around.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) dissected the ever-changing government policy, particularly around resources. “If you want a school-led system, you need resources and support in every part of the country,” he said, referring to the uneven distribution of funds which will be squeezed ever tighter with the introduction of higher employer pension contributions. The schools that are due to benefit from the new ‘funding formula’ won’t do so until the end of this Parliament, and schools are expecting to run into deficits within two years. On academisation, Hobby advises schools not to rush into anything and consider who they want as a partner: “We have the opportunity to make the future we want to see,” he says.
Many of the teaching-focused sessions at Education Show looked at literacy and numeracy, echoing the government’s renewed focus on the subjects. Stationery provider BIC has teamed up with Start-Bee to get the nation handwriting – a skill that can affect a pupil’s progress and even a school’s Ofsted rating. The Scholastic Reading Hub featured speakers on reading and assessment while the Maths and Science Theatre featured sessions on ‘flipped learning’ and gamification for maths lessons.
Back at the School Leaders’ Summit, representatives from the National Association of Special Educational Needs (NASEN), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) and Teacher Development Trust (TDT) offered their thoughts on the future of the education sector.
Adam Boddison, CEO of NASEN, focused on the prominence of technology for students and the wealth of information that’s available to them. Who is the guardian of that information? When many people choose from the first few results on Google, much of which is paid for, do we want commercial companies choosing what young people access? His message to school leaders is to keep up with the pace of change, and recognise the need to shift from localised schooling to a more harmonised, global system.
David Weston, founder and chief executive of TDT, spoke about the need for greater diversity – there are not enough male teachers and not enough female leaders in education. Kevin Stannard, Director of Innovation and Learning at GDST, said that while technology may have increased teachers’ workloads, the qualities of good leadership won’t change over time. “Great leaders see their school as it looks in the future, and doesn’t just jump on the latest tech bandwagon,” he says.
Allan Foulds, president of ASCL, also looked at the role of good leaders, encompassing traits such as humility, long-term vision, constant learning and credibility. He advised schools to distribute responsibility throughout management and not rely on one leader to represent the school’s vision.
Later in the day, ASCL’s interim general secretary Malcolm Trobe continued on the topic of changing leadership in light of the government’s academy plans and funding formula. His advice? Stay in control of your destiny, choose an academy partner wisely and based on what’s best for your pupils, make sure parents’ voices are heard and consider the benefits of economies of scale.
In my final session at Education Show, teacher and blogger Mark Anderson said we have a ‘problem’ whereby reports are claiming that technology is not doing enough to benefit learning. However, Mark says, tech can have a real impact if it’s embedded across the curriculum – a strategy and culture as opposed to having the latest gadgets. Heads can’t expect to be experts in technology, but they should acknowledge its power to help children – Mark calls this ‘digital leadership’. Like gardening, a school can’t scatter the seeds and expect something to grow, the right conditions need to be prepared. Mark’s checklist for digital culture is vision, skills, incentive, resources and an action plan. Who are we to argue with the ‘ICT Evangelist’?
Education Show 2016 took place between 17-19 March at NEC Birmingham. Read more about the show at www.education-show.com