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SSAT National Conference 2010 #NC10 – Initial Thoughts

The SSAT National Conference took place last week at the ICC in Birmingham (a venue rightly compared to Escher’s Relativity!).  I was fortunate to be able to attend as a punter on the Wednesday and as a presenter on the Thursday as we launched the SSAT National Digital Leaders programme!

The theme of the conference was ‘Excellence for All’, and I have to say that the SSAT delivered , each aspect of the conference itself was excellent.

Wednesday started for me with Dylan Wiliam extolling the importance of assessment being the key to good teaching.  He was as inspiring a speaker as ever, as those of you who watched his recent TV program would know.  In particular I was impressed with Dylan’s ability to demonstrate his techniques within a ‘classroom’ of 400 educators, and also his incredible use of research evidence to support his teachings.

Wednesday Keynotes came from David Hemery, former 400m Hurdles Gold medal winning Olympian, he was telling his story and promoting www.21stcenturylegacy.com , part of London 2012’s legacy programme for schools.  He was followed by Sugata Mitra, telling his engaging tale of children teaching themselves using the Internet, from his hole-in-the-wall Mumbai slums experiment to his recent work in Gateshead.  This was an engaging tale that at first seemed to question the need for teachers at all!  As with all the speakers, more to follow in a future blog-post.  I would add that I was fortunate enough to chat to Sugata over coffee following his talk, a charming man.

Wednesday at the conference ended for me with Mark Dawes and Paul Hynes discussing how to use existing buildings to support 21st century learning.

Wednesday evening was spent at Shimla Pinks for a curry with friends and colleagues that have been involved with the Digital Leaders programme, including Kristian Still, Bob Harrison, Len Daniels. Great stuff!

The Conservatives released their White Paper “The Importance of Teaching” on the Wednesday, Thursday began with the Minister for Schools Nick Gibb (Michael Gove was somewhat busy and did not attend as planned).  Interesting to hear first hand some of the rationale from Mr Gibb, but I have to say he was somewhat clinical about it all, and was given a specific grilling on the plans to scrap funding for Sports Partnerships in school.

The drab Mr Gibb was followed by the sparkling Tanya Byron, who had many a delegate slightly smitten by the end of her passionate talk about bringing schools up-to-date in this digital era.  She set things up perfectly for our Digital Leaders launch later that day, telling us all to “Embrace the technologies that pupils use e.g. Phones, or shut up shop and go home.

Final morning keynote came from the excellent Dan Pink, former speech writer to Al Gore.  Dan gave an insightful talk about giving staff and students time for autonomy so as to foster engagement.  Dan offered the presentation advice of brevity, levity and repetition, so I’ll stop talking there!

At lunch I got a great demonstration of RealSmartCloud, the Google AppsWordPressRealsmart based VLE.  Thanks to Si Brown for the demo, it was great to see learning at the heart of a VLE, definitely something I’ll be investigating further.

After lunch I saw a presentation about raising achievement at KS4, it was good to see that we have been doing many of the tips for years!  This was followed by Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham.  Andy gave a fairly passionate speech about his education beliefs and his thoughts on the White Paper.  But he was noticeably lacking in policy, whilst this is understandable at such an early stage in this parliament, it is still important that Labour get into the habit of being in opposition, before the Conservatives pass through many wide-ranging reforms with little or no resistance.  Spontaneous applause rang round the hall as he questioned the sports funding decision.

Final task of the conference was the nerve wracking job of helping to launch the Digital Leaders programme nationally.  My eternal thanks to Kristian StillBob HarrisonLen Daniels & Paul Hynes for pushing this project to the point where we can invite schools from across the country to take part.  I look forward excitedly to seeing it flourish.

The aim of the conference was to look towards providing ‘excellence for all’ by investigating what & how students should learn and how to push down the barriers to learning.  From David Hemery’s question of “what it would take to take the first step” to the work of Dylan Wiliam & Sugata Mitra & Tany Byron pushing my thoughts about the role of a teacher in the 21st century it was a great few days.

I will delve into my thoughts in greater detail in a series of posts this week relating to each speaker / session that I attended.  If you’re interested in any of the above now then many of the keynote sessions are available to watch online.


Post 2: Dylan Wiliam

Post 3: David Hemery

Post 4: Sugata Mitra

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