By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools
What do some 300 headteachers want to do when they convene for their annual conference, say in Belfast?
Having just returned from this event and having done it, here is a pithy summary. People want three things: to be inspired, to come back with some useful things, and to have plenty of chances for fellowship. Time and sundry survey monkeys will no doubt tell whether my august colleagues found the balance right in the conference I have shaped but here are some highlights from each of these categories.
Inspired we were on Monday by Jonathan Powell telling us about the Northern Ireland peace process and the role that he played as chief negotiator. On Tuesday, Barb Oakley (Professor of Engineering at Oakland University) and John Lloyd (creator of QI and so many of the great satirical TV shows of the last 35 years) inspired us to think about how we learn and how he might better galvanise children’s curiosity. On Wednesday we heard from one of our colleagues, Mark Steed, on how educational experimentation in Dubai may be indicating a future where education in its current form, say at Bedales, becomes as unusual as bespoke tailoring and most learn through a combination of technology and a small amount of classroom contact.
Useful things are done mainly in workshops, which cover areas such as legal, strategy, neuroscience, gender identity, entrepreneurship, partnerships and even pensions. Heads’ panels exploring different kinds of innovation in our schools give us ideas we can take away – people are keen to share ideas and there is a spirit of collaboration. A final heads’ panel has six of us describe particularly testing times that we have faced – here, as is so often, usefulness and inspiration blend.
Fellowship? Leading is, we think, a lonely business. Moving into headship you go from having plenty of colleagues you can share confidences with to very few: the relationships you develop with fellow heads become a critical part of your personal, as well as professional support network. So, planning a conference, you want to make sure that there are plenty of generous breaks for coffees, teas (as purveyors of these beverages on the railways uniquely say). You also want to make sure that the evening events are sufficiently attractive to make sure that people do want to congregate and that food and drink are compelling. For me, no conference is complete without a poetry reading so we had Alice McCullough on Monday evening. You need to allow people to do other things together, so have an afternoon when you can tramp the beautiful hills of Mourne or seek out the mysteries of the Titanic.
Having the unusual privilege of organising such an event is itself quite thought-provoking, but I can recommend it.