Everything has a beginning – The Learning Exchange Curriculum Conference 2013

On Friday, primary school leaders and teachers came together for a conference about children, choices and curriculum. The conference was called, ‘Building on Making Learning Irresistible’ because schools in North Somerset have been doing important kinds of thinking about learning and children for many years. However, the conference was planned to offer schools a new beginning – to think about the new National Curriculum and how to put it to good use in designing their school curriculum.

Sir Tim Brighouse opened the conference with an inspiring, thought-provoking and expansive talk. The wisdom of the years Tim has spent in education at local authority, national, international level and in the academic field, was shared with passion and peerless insight. We were gently provoked to think of the way educational ideas are so often shaped by politicians because of their relationship to economic theory. We were introduced to the ideas of William Temple who, as a social teacher asked, ‘Are we to treat a man as they are, or as they might become?’ We were reminded of the purpose of state funded education –  to create a just and civilised society.  We were intelligently guided through key issues for school improvement, including the work of ongoing professional development. Tim also touched on cognitive sciences and the way memory is highly context-sensitive (revision in the hall!) and how we need to find those low-effort, high impact strategies that Tim calls ‘butterflies’.

Tim shared some key ways that we know a good school when we see one – they all related to what teachers do and say. Finally, Tim shared the notion of ‘hyacinth-seeking’. The idea that all people have their own talents and interests and this is the reason we must defend a broad and balanced curriculum, so that children’s ‘hyacinths’ are allowed to flourish. But Tim also reminded us that teachers need them too so that we can all stay as energy makers, practising, celebrating and sharing our professional hyacinths.

Room 13 Managing Director, Rhiannon and 13-year-old Lauren followed Sir Tim with a truly inspirational insight into how children and young people deserve more trust and responsibility in school life. Rhiannon confidently described her role and work in running Room 13. Lauren reflected on the contrast with what Room 13 offered her as a learner, compared to her everyday school experiences (www.room13hareclive.org.uk).  Her ability to describe herself as someone who thinks ‘long’ and therefore finds new ideas as she takes her time around her own mind, was simply profound. Both Lauren and Rhiannon explained the significance for them of having an opportunity to use art and design as a medium to explain, explore and share their thoughts, hopes and dreams. But the key message was one of ‘estimation’, and how much we tend to underestimate their capabilities and how much more they deserve to be trusted as people with ideas worthy of note.

The rest of the day was an opportunity to share thinking, new ideas and information in workshops covering, Music, History, Geography, Design and Technology, Science, English, Maths, Primary languages and curriculum design.

The day was brilliantly rounded off with an impassioned and principled keynote from Gareth Mills (www.garethmillsonline.com), in which he asked us to think of our curriculum design work as an opportunity to be bold pioneers in literally constructing a ‘Grand Designs’ curriculum, fit for our children in a connected and hopeful world.

See Sir Tim Brighouse’s guest post for us: Collecting ‘butterflies’ of good school practice

Update: Some feedback from delegates about the conference:

“Have come away feeling excited and ready to start planning for the new curriculum”

“The speeches were inspiring, exciting and challenging”

“So glad children’s voices were heard today – very poignant and meaningful”

“Chance to network with colleagues and other organisations”

“Created a motivated attitude, and a buzz about the way forward”

“Workshops stimulated lots of food for thought and action”

“Loads of helpful resources and fact sheets”


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Guest post: Sir Tim Brighouse - Collecting 'butterflies' of good school practice
Grabbing feedback in both hands