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On November 1st 2010 we held our first Blackpool SSAT Education Conference. The event saw 1000+ delegates gather at the Winter Gardens to hear some world class presenters speak with passion about various themes linked to curriculum and creativity.
The day came about by virtue of the previous government agreeing an additional inset day for all primary schools to implement their new curriculum based on the now defunct Rose Review. In Blackpool we all agreed to keep Nov 1st as a collective INSET day where we could get together and do something meaningful for all our staff. The commitment of all our schools was important as only through such an approach could we make something this special happen. As all Blackpool schools are affiliated to the SSAT we were able to sit down with our Head of Regional Network and plan the day with them. The Local Authority were also very helpful in negotiating a deal with the Winter Gardens and working together with us on presenters and organising with our local FE college for their Events Management Students to come along and work on the day as part of their course.
A local company Central Media Services (CMS), provided AV support for the day ensuring the event met high conference standards in terms of screening, light and sound. By selling exhibitors space we were able to offset the cost of the day and keep delegates rates at an absolute minimum. With such guaranteed large numbers in attendance we were able to provide a first class CPD event at an unbelievably low rate.
The conference began with an introduction from Richard Hunter, former head of primary for the SSAT and now once more a headteacher at Robin Hood Primary School in Birmingham. Richard shared with delegates the real benefits of affiliation; the opportunities for international partnerships, bespoke training for all stakeholders in school, access to world class thinkers and courses, school visits and much more. Richard introduced Damian Hughes as the first key note of the day. Damian spoke about how our attitudes and beliefs can impact on our performance. He presents in a way that you can’t help but engage with, his messages are clear, strong and leave you thinking about what you do and how you do it – a perfect start to a day about challenging and changing our classroom practice. Damian has written a number of books that ask us to question our thinking, titles such as ‘The Change Catalyst’ and ‘Liquid Thinking’ give you an indication of his passions and how his messages support us in managing change. Damian created a real buzz around the place and set a fantastic, energetic and enthusiastic tone to the day which was further built on by our next presenter John Davitt.
For those people unfamiliar with John’s work, he is again a world renowned figure in education. His approach is innovative, original and exiting. John speaks from the heart about engaging learners and exploring ways to bring the best out of every learning experience. He has developed a number of ways we can use technology in a straightforward and simple fashion to support learning. The approaches John shared with us don’t require a high level of technological savvy to use and many delegates were jotting down ideas and tools that John showed – ideas that can be quickly put into practice back in school.
Following lunch IT coordinators retired with John to a close by local primary school to take part in a workshop where they could explore in more details some of John’s approaches – these can then in turn be shared back in school through staff meetings that will further the day’s messages.
After an extended break to get everyone through lunch (a potential problem that was very efficiently managed by the staff of the Winter Gardens) we came back to the main hall to hear Richard Machin. Richard is the headteacher of All Saints Primary School in Warwick and he shared with us all the journey he has taken the school on over the last three years. From a school in difficulty to one of the top 100 performing primaries in the country. Richard hasn’t done this through a box ticking culture but by providing the children at All Saints with a rich, exciting and active curriculum that puts their needs first and offers them creative ways of doing things. It was great for delegates to hear from a practising headteacher about how he has worked with the children, satff and parents to move the school forward without sacrificing his beliefs and principles.
The day’s last speaker was unfortunately unable to attend for health reasons and so it fell upon one of his colleagues to deliver a presentation on his behalf. Dr Peter Twinings is head of Education at the Open University and he was going to speak to delegates about the future of education and how different approaches to training and development could support us in the future. Stephen Musgrave who works closely with Peter shared with us how Vital can provide bespoke online support and a range of free resources to support ongoing professional development through a tool called Elluminate. Unfortunately some of the live feeds during Stephen’s presentation were difficult to hear due to technical problems but the messages were well received by people and again, lots of jottings suggested delegates would be further exploring this online support.
The day was brought to a close by Sue Williamson from SSAT. Sue echoed the thoughts of many of us when she spoke about how much we could achieve through such active collaboration. To see so many people from local schools together in one place made you realise that the future of education is in our hands if we want it. There is freedom to teach, freedom to innovate and freedom to do what we know is best for all our children and by working together we can achieve anything. Days like today show that our strength lies in such a collaborative approach.