Bunting, burgers, blazing sunshine and big ideas – the 12th annual Festival of Education at Wellington College didn’t disappoint in style or substance.

The buzz in the air felt heightened as this year’s Festival opened on Thurs 7th July with the news that Boris Johnson had just announced his resignation.  With James Cleverly becoming the 3rd education secretary in as many days, the news also reemphasised the extent to which political instability is affecting the sector, a theme that came up repeatedly during the two-day event.

Despite the complex challenges facing today’s educators, the overarching feeling among attendees was excitement at being able to connect with colleagues and peers in the vibrant, spacious surroundings of Wellington.  The spontaneous conversations taking place over pizzas on the hay bales or ice-creams in the quad, were as lively as the debates in the sessions themselves.

Many teachers, some of whom had travelled internationally to attend, emphasised the importance of taking time away from the day-to-day demands of the classroom to gain clarity, share experiences and discuss best practice.

“It’s an amazing venue in which to pause, reflect and refresh educational vision going forward.”Ruth Whymark

Senior Vice-Principal and Head of Primary at Doha College, Qatar

The Sustainability Summer Fete

A popular new addition to this year’s event, the Sustainability Summer Fete took over a large marquee at the heart of the Festival, in partnership with WWF-UK and SEEd.  Several different organisations and charities introduced environmental resources, tools and materials to teachers, including Hedgehog Friendly Campus; The House of Fairy Tales: Nature Premium and Learning through Landscapes.

“The sustainability tent is particularly important to me. We are fortunate enough to have a lovely, big school site and it’s great to get ideas about how to maximise its potential”Clare Searing

Head of Upton Meadows Primary School, Northampton

Amy Ball, Primary Education Officer at WWF-UK agrees, saying;

“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to engage face-to-face with teachers.  We are trying to get schools thinking about sustainability across all aspects of the curriculum. It’s vital that schools themselves become more planet-friendly places and pupils feel connected with nature”

Caroline Howkins, Secondary Education Officer at WWF-UK added:

“So many teachers have been interested in the Summer Fete and they’re all telling us how strongly their pupils feel about sustainability.”

Greening the classroom

There were over 30 sessions in the sustainability content strand, and the importance of greening the curriculum crossed over to several talks in other strands.  This included BBC Education’s “How Green Is Your Classroom?” at 11.15am on Thurs with actor, presenter and climate activist, Konnie Huq, who was joined by leading expert on environmental education, Claire Seeley.

Konnie spoke passionately about the need to end our disposable culture and help children join up the dots between consumerism and climate change from an early age.   She shared her own environmental epiphany that took place when she visited the area of Bangladesh that her parents had grown up in, for a Blue Peter appeal.  There she saw, first-hand, the devasting impact flooding would have if sea levels continued to rise. This brought to life the anti-waste mentality her mother had always encouraged at home.

Claire Seeley shared her advice on helping children manage climate anxiety after a global survey of 10,000 young people revealed that 75% think “the future is frightening” (The Lancet, 2021*). Claire emphasised the stress-relieving power of spending time in nature, and the importance of activism which is proven to lower anxiety in children by giving them a sense of agency and ownership.

In his 12.15pm keynote speech, Sir Tim Smit KBE, founder of The Eden Project, talked about the need to be more open-minded and to question received wisdom and ‘sloganeering’ in the environmental movement.   When it comes to the education sector, his implication was that knowledge has been colonised by scientific specialisms rather than viewing things through the holistic lens of natural history.

Sir Tim put a lot of The Eden Project’s incredible success down to the thought and planning that went into the supply chain and local economy.   Like a strong ecosystem, he said that these interconnected relationships infected each other with the desire to do better and improve.

“We are better than just consumers, we’d all like to contribute to make our communities more resilient and stronger”Sir Tim Smit

In different ways, Sir Tim, Konnie and Claire reiterated our fundamental human need, both as children and adults, to be part of something.  Mental health and the environment are intertwined if you consider that wellbeing doesn’t come from the superficial stuff, but from empowerment, connection and experiences.

Predictions for the future of education

The Sir Christopher Lee Theatre was packed for former Wellington Master and Deputy Chairman of The Times Education Commission, Sir Anthony Seldon’s keynote address; “Five Things that will Change in Education in the Next 10 Years and Five Things that Won’t”

Rachel Sylvester began by introducing the Times Education Commission’s recent report** on the UK’s education system which had concluded that the system was failing on every measure, with high-stakes testing and rigid, inflexible curriculums squeezing creativity out of schools.  She emphasised the vital importance of Early Years and the need for increased funding for this provision. The report, which has received support from business leaders, politicians and education experts, makes the case for bold reform with a 12-point plan of recommendations.

Sir Anthony’s predictions of what won’t change in the next 10 years included exams, Ofsted and inadequate government spending, and he expects that government will continue to direct education.  He did think that exams would evolve to take on different forms and transition increasingly to online.

On a more positive note, he anticipated a bigger focus on wellbeing; the use of AI to give teachers more time to spend with pupils and that schools will become greener places, more open to and involved with the communities they serve.

Diversity and Inclusion in the Curriculum

As part of the BAMEed strand, Orlene Badu, System Lead for the Young Black Men Project at Hackney Learning Trust explained how educators can create a curriculum that whispers ‘you belong’ to all leaners.   She talked about the problems of tokenism and the need to find positive narratives that make pupils feel proud, as opposed to learning about black history primarily from an angle of oppression.

She asked teachers to consider “how do we ensure that every child’s curriculum is autobiographical”?

Orlene believes critical thinking is vital for learners when it comes to decolonising the curriculum. She used the example of reading ‘An Inspector Calls’ against the grain by asking pupils where the gaps and missing voices are and how they would rewrite it.

In the LGBTQ+ strand, Thursday’s sessions included Creating Space for LGBTQ+ Students in Secondary Schools and broadcaster Hadley Stewart’s experiences of being gay at an all-boys’ school.

Safeguarding and Mental Health

One of the first sessions from the morning of 7th July was Elke Edwards, founder of Ivy House London, on how to move beyond Everyone’s Invited and tackle sexual abuse in schools.  In an interactive session, she encouraged the audience to consider what drives their own and others’ behaviour which prompted a thought-provoking discussion about how to develop a culture of ownership within schools.

She acknowledged that creating genuine change means teaching students and staff to have the confidence to swim against the tide.

In the afternoon, educational consultant, Nicola S. Morgan, ran a practical session on how teachers can develop resilient students.  Drawing on her own story of succeeding in swimming the Channel on her second attempt, she gave some quick, actionable tips and recommended helpful resources, including the free Child and Youth Resilience Measure (CYRM) and Boingboing’s interactive resilience framework.

She explained the importance of encouraging children to try difficult things and to be unafraid of failure.

After a jam-packed and exciting first day at the Festival of Education 2022, one of the over-riding themes that emerged was the importance of cultivating a shared sense of responsibility and purpose within the education community.  Collaboration, support and empowerment are vital when it comes to creating positive change.  There was no doubt among speakers and attendees that some challenging years lie ahead, but the Festival serves to create a feeling of unity and a reminder of the vital role that educators play in building a better society.

* https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(21)00278-3/fulltext


Click HERE for full gallery.