Guardian Innovation in Education – our first national conference goes off with a bang!

November 11, 2009 at 3:02 pm 1 comment

by Claire McEneaney

Wow. I can’t quite believe that after months of planning and plotting that our Innovation in Education (in partnership with EducationGuardian) conference is all over.

I think it would be safe to say that the day was a real success. The speakers and panellists really rose to the challenge and delivered some truly thought-provoking and inspirational speeches. There was controversy (as well there should be!) but there was also consensus amongst the delegates about the need for radical change and (to a slightly lesser extent) the means of bringing it about.

Voting pads were used to assess the appetite for innovation in the current climate and, with a few exceptions, all voted that they agreed or strongly agreed that now was a fantastic time to make the most of innovation as an improvement and cost-cutting tool. The major barriers to innovation in education were judged by the room to be fear, government policy and Ofsted.

Lord David Puttnam set the scene, focusing on the 21st century challenge faced by the education system. He showed a preview of the new film ‘We are the people we’ve been waiting for’ – hugely powerful and it seemed to energise and inspire the audience. He also added that in his view the top obstacle to innovation is ‘government fear of the Daily Mail’!

Michael Stevenson was up next, focussing on Cisco’s vision for Education 3.0 and exploring the skills and competencies that our young people need to be equipped with in order to succeed in the 21st century.

Timo Lankinen, director general of the Finnish board of education, gave a fascinating insight into why Finland consistently achieves in its schools with high OECD ratings. A large part of the solution seems to lie in Finland’s approach to its teachers. Teaching is a hugely valued and respected profession, more so than it seems to be in the UK. Competition to be a teacher is fierce, with only 10% of applicants successful. That certainly sent a ripple of surprise round the room. Read the Guardian’s coverage here for more.

We then broke for the first of our series of workshops – pedagogy being the most oversubscribed with people cramming in to sit on the floor to hear our very own David Price facilitate the discussion.

After a truly scrummy lunch (with some of the most mouth-watering looking cake I’ve ever seen), Larry Rosenstock of High Tech High took up the mic. Goodness me that man can talk quickly, but it was all so interesting and fantastic to hear how his students contribute to all kinds of products (such as guides to San Diego) to really see their learning produce something concrete. He was also incredibly sceptical about test-based accountability, which seemed to strike a chord with many of our delegates. Read the Guardian’s coverage here.

After the second of our series of workshops, we had a panel discussion with Damian Allen (from Knowsley MBC), John Baumber (Kunskapsskolan), Dan Moynihan (Harris Federation) and Ben Jupp (Cabinet Office). They discussed the vehicles and drivers needed to enable 21st century learning. I found it enormously interesting to hear perspectives from schools, a local authority, policy makers and an international viewpoint. You can read Dan Moynihan’s viewpoint on allowing new organisations to enter the market to run schools here.

To close the day, we heard from David Albury and Charlie Leadbeater on how to make a radical break from the mainstream in order to succeed in innovating in education. David Albury echoed Dan Moynihan’s when he spoke about freeing up the market to enable new providers to offer education. Charlie Leadbeater suggested that one solution might be to look at providing education outside traditional environments to reduce some of the stress we have put on our education system. He described education as the “only true global religion…education plus technology equals hope”.

I spoke to several of the delegates after the conference closed and the amount of energy generated was immense. There was agreement, disagreement but importantly open and free communication which can only be a good thing.

A big thank you to everyone who helped the day come together – it really was an absolutely brilliant day, and perhaps the first of many!


Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services, Innovation Policy, Local Authorities, Local Innovation, National Agencies, Regional Bodies, Schools & Multi-School Trusts.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ron Newell  |  January 5, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I have been following the Innovation Unit for some time, and am very interested in some of the concepts discussed. If the readers would check our website, they would see that our organization has been on the cutting edge of education innovation for some time. The concept of schools run by teacher cooperatives was first done in the public arena by EdVisions Cooperative in 1995. We also have developed a 6-12 education program model that utilizes student centered, self-directed project-based learning; full-time advisories; authentic and relevant assessments; as well as teacher cooperatives.

    The point being, many of the innovations mentioned by your organization have been put into practice. We know how to create altered environments that meet adolescent needs, raise engagement, and create life-long learners with 21st Century skills.

    However, innovation appears to be overrun by the standardistas, those who think that a national curriculum and tests will create a society of creative thinkers. I know the U.K. has been thorugh this, and hopefully moving away from it. Help us to bring the message that innovation is NOT moving away from good education!


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