Monday, 19 November 2012

London Festival of Education

The London Festival of Education was great, an amazing line-up of high-profile speakers, plus exciting debates, workshops and performances, fittingly kicked off by an inspiring and thought-provoking year 10 student.

First speaker Michael Gove’s views on how to achieve an education system appropriate for every student were clearly not shared by most of the audience. Headteacher Vic Goddard, educationalist Tim Brighouse and deputy London mayor for education and culture Munira Mirza’s debate on the education needed in the 21st century was better recieved. All agreed that developing the whole person is fundamental, their intellectual and practical skills, their creativity and their humanity. (I love the motto of the school where Brighouse is a governor: ‘Children should think for themselves and act for others.’) Less unanimity on how to do this, in particular the level of priority that should be given to subject knowledge.

The next session I attended was excellent. New Views is a playwriting scheme for 15-19s. Akwasi Akoto, one of the writers spoke, then we watched a reading of his chilling play Ivory Keyboard, about the impact of an anti-immigrant party gaining power. Interestingly, one stimulus for the play was The Hunger Games.

I felt lucky to hear the Gallery Singers too. A group of students and young professionals, they sang lovely songs inspired by poetry and prose.

The Museum of London workshop was fascinating. It powerfully demonstrated the value of artefacts in stimulating thinking and learning. The speaker told us that in the average classroom children are given virtually no time to answer questions. He stressed the importance of open questions and time to think. Very exciting ideas here, as there were in a session on project-base learning. We heard how this approach breaks down barriers between academic and vocational education.

The biggest highlight of the day for me was Michael Rosen and Anthony Horowitz’s discussion on how to stop killing the love of reading. Rosen reminded us of the evidence that shows reading for enjoyment has a huge role to play in attainment and social mobility, then spoke angrily about the ways he sees government policy militating against it, particularly the emphasis on phonics and testing and the lack of time for book-related discussion. Horowitz was great on the power of reading as ‘a gymnasium for the mind’ as well as a source of enormous pleasure. On the barriers to reading he said ‘Reading should be about finding something you love, not getting to the next level.’ Both were passionate about the need for a good library in every school, and a good librarian in the secondary sector.

What an amazing day. I came away exhausted but exhilarated.