This year’s Scottish Learning Festival (Twitter #SLF11) is likely to be one to remember – either for better or worse. To be held on 21st and 22nd September, the theme is Curriculum for Excellence: Learning, Teaching and Assessment, Making the Connections.
The conference will also see the highly anticipated ‘launch’ of Scotland’s new executive agency – Education Scotland; a marriage between Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) and Her Majestie’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIe). The perpetual role and responsibilities of the ‘support’ and ‘challenge’ aspects of the agency are yet to be communicated in any great detail, though these traditional terms are likely to be ones that The Scottish Government would like to banish into the void; they do not convey the contemporary message which will realise the desired ties between Education Scotland and the learning and teaching profession.
Back in 2008, having attended and presented at a number of consecutive festivals, LTS asked me to produce a short paper which measured the impact of SLF. Given that the next event is almost upon us, I thought that I’d take the time to reflect on my previous thoughts, though I admit that I struggle to conclude whether the event is dead in the water or alive and kicking.
The Scottish Learning Festival is the largest education conference and exhibition of its kind in Scotland. Throughout its twelve year history, the event has been extensively evaluated by Learning and Teaching Scotland to ensure that delegates are benefiting from attendance. However, the real success of whether or not attendance is beneficial is in the long term impact that it has on the delegate and their classroom, school and professional practice. This ensures that the event is continuous throughout the year and not simply a two day event which promotes innovative ideas and an opportunity to network.
I believe that some teachers can have very narrow perspectives when their view is restricted to only one school or classroom and that SLF provides the ideal opportunity to have a fresh and unique overview of education. We have all seen significant change to the curriculum over the last few years and the future promises to bring ever more intensive and stringent reform to the qualification and assessment system. Improving the life chances of our young people and raising self-esteem, self-belief and self-determination, what I call responsible confidence, must be promoted amongst children and young people through a diverse range of creative and innovative pedagogy. By sharing ideas, resources and knowledge we can facilitate the growth and development of such practice to an extent where we provide infrastructure which will firmly support further implementation of Curriculum For Excellence.
I normally feel very excited following attendance at SLF. There aren’t many opportunities to meet with teachers from early years and secondary, colleges and other areas of education all in the same day and this type of perspective gives that broader picture. The conference programme arrives on my desk at exactly the right time. Based on current themes related to the curriculum and teaching practice, I always use it as a starting point to identify my own professional development for the year ahead, and it is an opportunity to see what other people are doing up and down the country. Increasingly, I have met with colleagues from other parts of the United Kingdom and from as far as the United States and Australia – indeed, if they make the effort to attend then so should we.
I do feel however, that in the current economic climate, some teachers may have difficulty achieving time away from the classroom – decreasing staff cover budgets and increasing workloads make attendance challenging – and I don’t know many teachers who attend both days.
I would really like to see the attendance figures from this year’s conference and compare them to those of the past. There could well be some serious questions to be asked. It may well be, despite all the advantages and good points to the event, that it has lived its course and a new approach is now needed. Perhaps, a controversial shift in time is needed, with an opportunity for teachers to attend at the weekend instead; are we given the chance to tune into a live seminar via video conferencing? This would be appealing to those who need to travel from afar and stay overnight – and of course it would provide a valuable record of the discussion. This is especially important, I feel. A record is needed if the conference is to continue impacting on learning and teaching throughout the year.
If you are attending this year, I may well see you there – please do give me a shout and say hello. I’d be interested in your after thoughts – either message me via Twitter (@leeandrewdunn) or send me an email. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions around the future of the event and its impact on your practice. At this moment in time, I’ll sit on the fence.