Wednesday, 25 June 2014


Toilet roll: check.  Glow-stick: check.  Rock of weed wrapped in cellophane: check.  DM boots with band names marked in tippex: check.  Girl in bikini top on shoulders: check.  This is my imagined festival essentials list from 1993, the last time you'd have seen Kurt Cobain on the circuit and probably the last time you might have seen me packing for a real festival.

My festival essentials list for Wellington College last weekend were very different: map (to assist with locating the 'Spiritual Room', list of Twitterati I wished to meet, iPad and name badge (in the vain hope that someone bounded up to talk about this blog).  More festival nerd than festival chic, but I was excited for the event nonetheless.  The promise of 'freshly brewed organic beats' for the Friday night entertainment (presumably some recent Wellington leavers playing ukuleles whilst dressed in red cords) made me glad I was heading into London for the evening, but it was the daytime treats I was most looking forward to.  And here's what I did:

Day 1

Christopher Waugh

Donnie Darko disciple and wearer of double denim, Chris gave his excellent talk 'Deus ex Machina' about pupil choice, pupil voice and the co-creation of curricula.  He is certainly high up on my list to visit at the London Nautical School next year.  An idealist but also a realist, he draws you in with his enthusiasm and clear love of teaching and of his pupils.

Tom Sherrington

Predictably good.  I have read his blog for some years now, and he writes with great clarity but also humility - his gravitas comes from the fact that he is so able; he is collaborative and open to ideas without forcing them upon you.  I felt the talk was a little rambling, but maybe that was the purpose - look for a conclusion yourself rather than having it rammed down your throat.

Keiron Sparrowhawk

How could you not go to this talk?  He sounds like a cross between a fast bowler from the Leeward Islands and an LAPD traffic cop.  Sadly, he was neither.  His talk was on 'what makes a great leader' and during the 30 minutes I managed to stick it, I learned that pupils often thought MLK and Gandhi were great leaders, that I needed a mixture of luck and hard work, and I should drink only in moderation and eat my 5-a-day.

Laura McInerney

Laura is very sharp; her writing on education is perceptive; her Twitter feed is excellent.  I am sure that she gives excellent talks for the majority of the time.  This was not one of them.  Probably the most disappointing thing I saw because I know how excellent she could have been.  Instead, in her talk 'what makes a great education secretary' she presented a data-trawl on numbers of children, months of birth and time spent in the job, all to no obvious end or conclusion.  The more time in the job, the more they got done (and the more loathed they tended to be) and most of them were born in the summer.  Er...that was about it.

Dylan Wiliam

This man is superb.  He talks with articulacy, clarity and when he says 'research shows...' you know that he has read it, and really understands it.  Some teachers have chosen to trivialise AfL, but that's hardly his fault, and his embedding formative assessment materials are excellent.  He is interesting, inspirational and forces you to reflect on practice.  His 'debate' with David Didau was more 'Brokeback Mountain' for educationalists, but did provide for high-quality musing on some philosophical points of education.  When intelligent able people get together to talk education, it's a privilege to be able to sit back and watch.  

Day 2 

Andrew Adonis

Lord Adonis spoke impeccably for 40 minutes without notes.  His talk ranged from School governance to apprenticeships and though perhaps of limited relevance to me, here was clearly a man with a fine moral compass and serious ability.  The former 'thin controller' makes one wonder what might have happened had he been given the chance to push on his vision.

Ian Leslie

The find of the tournament for me.  There's something of the Gareth Malone about him, but far less irritating.  He spoke about his book 'Curiosity', and curiosity in general.  I love this word, and it has yet to be bastardised in the same way of 'passion' and 'engagement'.  With just the right amount of certainty, conjecture and whimsy, I found myself taken in by his calm manner.  Note to self: book him in for next year.

Kris Boulton

I liked him a lot, and clearly so do a lot of others, as room 1 of the Mandarin Pagoda was packed to the rafters.  All the gang were here in support: Daisy, Andrew Smith, Katie Ashford; just don't call them the 'new traditionalists'.  Kris is very likeable and earnest, and talked a lot of sense.  I got the feeling (as I get with a lot of the relatively inexperienced teacher bloggers) that his ideas are in the process of being formed rather than fully formed and that he is reacting to the circumstances in which he has found himself, rather than extolling some deep educational philosophy.  It felt a little as though I was in some sort of clandestine 'cell' a la Hans Fallada/George Orwell, where people of like mind felt able to express themselves without fear of Ofsted and/or progressive reprisal.  I agreed with pretty much all he said, and expect that he's an excellent teachers; I just don't recognise the system he's railing against.

Geoff Barton

I expect that he's given this talk (or something similar) many times before, so polished it was.  However, he could power the College with his enthusiasm, and the message is just as impressive as the man.  When I check Twitter at 6am, there's always some Barton to read already that morning.  He makes me want to read more, he makes me feel like a grammatical ignoramus and he does it all with plenty of jokes and being genuinely likeable.  What a star.  

Keith Vaz, Katie Hopkins, David Starkey, Claire Fox

Drivel from start to finish.  Keith quotes abstract soundbites (we need to give our children the best, it's not all about A* grades), Katie sounds like a rabid right-wing housewife (some people are failures and need to go into catering), David says f*ck and praises Brighton College and Claire says little, probably bemused by the directionless shambles of D-list celebrities with whom she's having to share a stage.

David Baddiel and Cosmo Landesman

David Baddiel was excellent, as always, but was let down in a huge way by his interviewer.  I had never heard of Cosmo, but he was very poor, with no research, no ability to sit and listen and seemingly no idea that people hadn't come to see him.  Even David was struggling by the end, resorting to telling a feeble anecdote about Gove just to get off the topic of pornography.

This was an outstanding educational occasion.  The opportunity to be inspired, to discuss, debate and to network was a great privilege and this is surely the gold standard by which all educational meets can be judged.  And the toilets were fragrant.

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