Thoughts from #EducatingNorthants

Date 2.04.2019

The first ever #EducatingNorthants conference was held on Saturday 30 March at the University of Northampton’s Waterside campus.

Hundreds of local educators from early years settings, schools, further education colleges, as well as academics from the University of Northampton attended; they joined together to share their thoughts on the state of education in Northamptonshire and problem solve for the future.  The agenda was wide-ranging, cross-phase and organised into strands, enabling delegates to choose variety or follow a theme.  The conference opened with a stunning performance by young members of the Silhouette Theatre Company-this set the bar very high for the rest of those introducing the conference!

Dr Helen Scott, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Humanities, one of the conference organisers and a former teacher shares some highlights from the conference:

Make a dent in marking: The Marking and Feedback strand of the conference caused much debate, and highlighted the difference in approaches to marking and feedback across the county and we suspect across the UK.  Regardless of the colour pen used for marking – purple or green, but no longer red – what comes across loud and clear is the need to work with pupils, to engage them in the learning, but then quickly act to support those who are making mistakes, rather than waiting for them to read the feedback in their work books.

A staggering number of teachers during the sessions and out there in the Twittersphere got involved in the conversation to say that you are still encouraged (sometimes mandated) to put pen to paper as the main pupil feedback mechanism. Verbal, whole class feedback and intervention was cited by many as a powerful tool to get pupils to take on board ways they can (all) improve their work. And if you must put pen to paper, why not try writing the feedback on the front of the book?

Let’s keep talking about Mental Health: The Whole School Mental Health and Wellbeing session by Steve Waters was full; so many people wanted to hear what was being said. The conversations that followed that session and others in the same conference strand demonstrated that this is clearly a crucial issue for teachers right now. If we don’t look after our teachers, they won’t be able to care for our children.

No ego, just ‘Let’s go’: Perfectly summed up by Jay Davenport, a Principal in Northants: “We do not need to wait for politicians or an inspectorate to tell us what we can and can’t or should or shouldn’t do.”

Over 50% of the conference speakers were not only from Northampton, but for many it was their first time as conference presenters; all bought passion and enthusiasm to their sessions. While the conference programme had some “big hitters” and representatives from the field – Ofsted, The Chartered College of Teaching, NFER and the Ambition Institute to name a few – what was special about #EducatingNorthants was that those national leaders stuck around and invested the time in going into sessions delivered by local teachers, who are confronting daily many of the themes within the conference.

A special shout out to Kat Howard who came and presented about LitDrive- her organisation which aims to empower English teachers by creating a community through resource sharing, coaching and subject knowledge CPD. She was accompanied by baby Max for her session. It was so inspiring to see her hold the attention of the entire room… well everyone but Max, who slept through the entire thing!

Yes, it’s about balance, but passionate people go further: Work / life balance is one of the oft-cited reasons behind the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, which I’ve written about before.

This theme was woven into so many of the sessions, from marking and assessment sessions, to teacher CPD and the panel debate looking at the Early Career Framework.  What was clear to me from #EducatingNorthants is that teachers in Northamptonshire are keen take control without waiting for permission; to work together to make our schools the best they can for children and young people. The fact that 600 teachers gave up their Saturday to share their passion & experience with one another is fantastic testament to all of them.

So, What next for Northampton? Throughout the day, in over 115 sessions over five conference strands, no education stone was left unturned and there really was something for everyone. The volume of people sharing great practice, talent and creative ways to tackle problems within teaching was impressive.

What will make the difference now, are those teachers who spent the rest of their weekend sketching out the ways in which they were going to incorporate this or that new practice into their lessons, or share it with their colleagues at school across Northamptonshire. What was that about work / life balance?! For those 600 who attended the conference, #EducatingNorthants created a valuable forum for collaboration, shared learning and future possibilities; watch this space….

For more on the speakers, and to catch up with presentations from sessions at #EducatingNorthants visit the conference website  or Catch up on thoughts from the conference using #EducatingNorthants on Twitter.