Standing still is not an option – Reflections on the 18th SSAT Conference.

Last week the SSAT hosted their 18th annual conference – Excellence for All,  in Birmingham UK.   The conference asked us to consider what children learn, how children learn and how we can remove barriers to learning.   A central tenet was the changing role of the teacher and many of the key notes and workshops I attended challenged the traditional view with persuasive models that are working both locally and globally.   A conference such as this really does give you the chance  not only to hear great speakers expound on new approaches but also enables you to attend workshops to see what that thinking looks like in the classroom, to hear warts and all accounts of how new approaches have been embedded and the difficulties that have had to be overcome.

My highlights

There were some fantastic speakers and practitioner led workshops and I couldn’t do them all justice in this brief post so I will simply share a few of the many highlights over the three days.

Sugata Mitra (@Sugatam) gave a fantastic keynote on Wednesday that showed just what children are capable of given the opportunity, his’hole on the wall’ work in the slums of India is an inspiration.   Both Sugata and John Wood have taken their experience, ideas and enthusiasm to different parts of the world to the benefit of millions of children.   John left Microsoft to set up the charity Room to Read which has provided books, libraries, learning and schools for children across Africa and Asia.

My twitter timeline will have betrayed to anyone reading it, the effect both Dylan William and Andy Hargreaves had on my thinking, and not for the first time.   When I listen to these two voices of academic authority sharing their thinking on education, based on extensive research, I find myself wondering why on earth a group of politicians (with little educational experience other than their own privileged one) would believe they know better.   Dylan’s research into how we move beyond current teaching levels is common sense –  improving teaching practice involves changing habits not simply adding more knowledge, something successive governments seem to have missed.   Dylan shared some startling facts about the national strategies that support his argument that for teachers to get better professional development has to be suited to individual need.   His recipe for a successful school is simple:

1. Become a Catholic school

2. Move your school to a leafy suburb

3. Get rid of all the boys

I’m not sure the academies programme will stretch this far!

Andy Hargreaves shared some of his extensive research from education, business and sport about leadership which forms the basis of his forthcoming publication ‘Beyond Expectations’.   There is something decidedly down to earth about Andy’s presentations, maybe it is his sporadic references to his beloved Burnley!   He made some fantastic points during his keynote and again, you can’t help but think the government would be wise to listen:

  • Education measures what is easy to measure, not what we value
  • Quick wins don’t reflect authentic improvements
  • If you want to be average, prescribe and standardise.  If you want to be excellent, be flexible and creative, innovate and take risks.

Andy’s research into successful business and sporting organisations could be a powerful catalyst for education change.   Let’s hope those in a position to affect such change are listening.

I could go on but many have already written about the conference and shared how passionately Tanya Byron spoke about integrating new technologies into the classroom, how Professor Erica Mc William introduced us to ‘the meddler in the middle’ as a key element of 21st century pedagogy and how Professor Barry Carpenter‘s research will help us meet the needs of children with complex learning difficulties in the future.

My final words go to Daniel Pink (@DanielPink) another inspirational key note speaker who challenged traditional approaches to learning and shared how we can motivate learners to prepare them for the future.   Daniel began his presentation by highlighting the three key elements of a successful speech; brevity, levity and repetition.   The three key conference questions, of how we learn, what we learn and how we remove the barriers to learning were explored repeatedly throughout the three days, sometimes all too briefly, often with levity, ensuring the all who attended the conference left with some possible answers, some further questions and a clear understanding that, as we always knew, standing still in education is not an option.   As Dylan William remarked when discussing teacher development; ask your staff if they think they think they can improve.   If they say yes, give them all the help and support you can.   If they say no, ask them to leave!

For further reading on the 18th National Conference see:

Bob Harrison’s post


The conference was made all the more enjoyable this year by the growing presence of  the twitteratti!   Among those I had the pleasure to meet and tweet with were:

@chickensaltash @DeputyMitchell @DianneSpencer @andreacarr @LibWithAttitude @tonyparkin to name but a few of the many!


About smichael920

Headteacher of a large primary school in North West England. Helping me to blur the distinction between work and home, I am also father of five, covering most phases of education thus giving me the lowdown from within and without. Education is about enjoying today and preparing for tomorrow. This can't be done using the tools of the past. View all posts by smichael920

4 responses to “Standing still is not an option – Reflections on the 18th SSAT Conference.

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