Conference season

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

This year’s annual HMC Conference was held at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. The hotel was built on the site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, a bloody milestone along the treacherous road towards universal suffrage. It’s a stone’s throw away from what was the legendary club The Hacienda, now a block of luxury flats (sic transit gloria). But it’s most compelling claim to shaping history as opposed to having history happen on its doorstep was that Mr Rolls and Mr Royce had their first ever meeting in the hotel and decided that they would go into partnership: the engineer and the money man realising that each had something the other didn’t.

The theme of this year’s conference has been ‘Together to Learn’ – a title which is meant to work in all sorts of clever ways, of course, as we have all come together to learn from each other, from the long list of eminent speakers that have given presentations, and of course it’s a statement about how all teachers and all schools, whether independent or maintained sector, can learn from each other.

The 2018 HMC buzzword bingo was not particularly challenging. ‘Bursary provision’, ‘public benefit’ and ‘partnerships’ were the ‘go to’ mentions and proliferated the discourse whenever the lights were dimmed. Because of the political discourse in another conference going on in Birmingham, a conference even more important than a bunch of Heads of schools coming together to talk school stuff, much of the energy and talk in Manchester was about anticipating political change that might adversely affect the independent sector. The Labour Party conference that took place last week in Liverpool was a more important conference to watch from our school perspective because we can pretty safely assume that a Labour government taking office after the next general election would introduce legislation that would present real existential challenges to many schools in the independent sector.

So whilst we wait for the current Conservative administration to lead the country out of Europe into a post-Brexit world of complete uncertainty, we also have to plan for what Mr Corbyn might do when he gets the keys to No. 10. At Bedales we can speak loudly and proudly about what we do in terms of public benefit, bursary provision and partnership forming. The timing of Patrick Derham’s visit to Bedales last week when he spoke at Jaw about his own journey as a recipient of a bursary could not have been better timed as an example of what Bedales does through its John Badley Foundation to make a Bedales education available to aspiring students whose families just don’t have the means to meet the fees. We also have a range of exemplar partnerships with our local schools, and in particular a successful partnership with Bohunt School in Liphook. And last week the Outdoor Work department welcomed a group of young people from a pupil referral unit in Gosport who came to share our facilities. And there is so much more.

Patrick’s mantra about the ‘transformative power of education’ still resonates in my mind, and I have heard that phrase again this week in Manchester. Once we are through the conference season; Conservative, Labour and HMC, then teaching and learning comes centre stage again, and the classroom rather than the podium, rightly, is where the action is.

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