Wellington Festival of Education 2014


The theme that ran through Wellington’s 2014 Education Festival as I experienced it was a focus on teaching becoming a self-improving profession.

Michael Wilshaw said discipline must not be seen as a dirty word by school leaders. When asked by Stuart Lock whether he had difficulties with inspectors, he said ‘We have had inspectors in the past who’ve disagreed with the ideas I’ve set out but they have been rooted out.Stuart, and everyone around him, looked sceptical.


Tom Sherrington denied that progressive pedagogy is problematic, said that children who haven’t had the grounding at home can’t just be lectured at, and that ‘one of the issues with teacher transmission is there’s too much to know.’  Bodil Isaksen challenged him afterwards on why decorating a Maths hat for homework wasn’t good enough for his own son, but that engagement and enjoyment was important for some kids. She tweeted her notes:



Robert Peal made a compelling case for his history of the education system in England, and argued that we need a school system that allows more teachers to teach traditionally, and fewer teachers in thrall to progressive ideology.


Jonathan Simons said that the balance had tipped too far, and that it was vitally important to counteract the tenacious forces and bias in schools.


John Blake said teaching isn’t a mature profession, and argued that it’s undeniable that progressive ideology is pervasive and continues to have a pernicious influence.


Daisy Christodolou summarised the evidence and statistics to show that standards have stagnated and even declined in education in England.


Sam Freedman endorsed Rob and Daisy’s case that standards have not improved, citing additional research.


Dylan William said teacher talk is more intelligent than student talk, and that testing and spaced practice were the two things the science shows work best for learning; David Didau challenged the cult of outstanding; both concurred that the aim of instruction is long-term memory retention.


Michael Gove said that he loves teachers, and that many, many more children are capable of access to a far broader range of knowledge.


Tristram Hunt did not turn up.


Andrew Adonis set out a vision of teaching as the foremost profession in the country. Afterwards Jonny Porter and I challenged him on the research-practice gap in Initial Teacher Training, a challenge he seemed to acknowledge, though he said ‘I haven’t got it cracked’.


David Weston reminded us that only 1% of CPD has a transformative impact on teaching practice and student learning.


Claire Fox said the year of her PGCE was probably the low point of her life, it was so bad.


Kris Boulton suggested that a codified body of knowledge in Initial Teaching Training could improve the status of teaching as a profession. It will be fascinating to see how the profession reacts to the suggestion of codifying subject expertise for new teachers, and I hope Kris writes about it to answer the questions it raises.


Katharine Birbalsingh gave a talk arguing that performance-related pay would destroy the staff ethos in schools.


Katie Ashford and I cited the statistic that 96% of private school children reach University, whereas only 16% of our poorest pupils, and told some stories around that stat. We argued that many of the ideas in the system, particularly weak ideas on discipline, the curriculum and teacher training, exacerbate educational inequality.


Stuart Lock did an epic job of covering the festival on Twitter. It was also excellent to meet Wellington’s Head of Research Carl Hendrick, and fantastic to see my former sixth form English teacher, Tom Wayman, who is now Head of Wellington College’s English Department. It’s a very impressive team, and one I have lots to learn from.


In brief, Wellington’s annual Education Festival is fast becoming an arena for confronting the tenacious orthodoxy of the current status quo in education.

About Joe Kirby

School leader, education writer, Director of Education and co-founder, Athena Learning Trust, Deputy head and co-founder, Michaela Community School, English teacher
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