ResearchED 2019 National Conference – My Favourite So Far

Posted on September 7, 2019


It’s that time again. All the hope of a new school year combined with the body shock of getting up early each morning. And then, just as we think the endless first week has ended, we submit ourselves to the rigours of academic thinking that we hope will be of some use to us in the year (and years) to come. One might almost think of it as some kind of martyr complex were it not for the fact that it’s bloody good fun and a chance to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.

Given the task of letting some lucky souls into the teeny car park of Chobham Academy, and the less pleasant task of refusing entry for others, I wasn’t able to catch Tom’s welcome address. Instead, warmed through with a much needed coffee, here are my highlights from the sessions I attended.

Using data and teaching and learning strategies to transform a school – Nimish Lad and Dawn Ashbolt

The nicest thing about this session was how both speakers admitted that they had headed in directions that they now recognise to be somewhat flawed as they struggled to help a school to respond to a catastrophic Ofsted rating. They really opened up on what they have re-evaluated and changed since then, which was great to hear. Too often, stories like theirs are heroic sagas of unbumpy journeys back to greatness, but this was more nuanced and more helpful as a consequence. As a result, I found myself doing the same and making some very early notes on how we report to parents at Canons and how we might think better about this in conjunction with others. I quite like it when my mind drifts away from the speakers in this way. The aim of ResearchED conferences for me are to find things that prompt me to think, not only to hear how other people’s thinking has been impacted by research evidence.

The application of theory: 8 propositions – Tom Needham

This was my standout session of the day. Immensely well-informed, fully research driven and with a light touch in terms of exemplar practice to demonstrate the theoretical insights at work, it was perfectly pitched. I could have listened for another hour (which might have been what Tom needed to get through his content). In particular, the thing that has most got me thinking is how, at his school, their teaching and learning policy is built on Rosenshine’s principles of instruction. Nothing hugely significant there, I hear some of you suggest. But what was interesting was how they keep this simple and then ask subject leaders to develop their own policy which shows how each of these principles should be applied in their specific domains. This means that those of us who might see lessons in domains with which we are unfamiliar can have, from the horse’s mouth if you like, some sense of what we ought to be looking for. This is something I’d be very interested in developing further at my own school. I also have a huge reading list to get through courtesy of Tom’s curation efforts with this session. Thank you.

More urban myths – Pedro de Bruyckere

Sadly, I have precious few notes from this session because Pedro is so damn entertaining in his delivery and I must have found myself transfixed. In the end, I only wrote down eleven words (compared to almost eleven pages for Tom). What I did leave the session with was an enhanced esteem for the complexities of the Dutch language (or baby German as Pedro assured us) and a desire to read the book when it comes out. As always, Pedro reminded me to remain sceptical about the grander claims surrounding education, and in the high stakes, fast-paced nature of school leadership, it’s always good to be reminded of that.

What it takes to achieve literacy success for all students – James Murphy with a panel including Dianne Murphy, Alex Quigley, Tom Needham and Dr Jennifer Buckingham

This was another session when the brevity of the sessions left me feeling short-changed. Quite simply, I could have listened to a double session with this panel. In that short time, they pulled together beautifully the importance of vocabulary, reading interventions, writing support and teacher education. This will be the next ResearchED publication and the multi-stranded approach will be reflected in that publication, making it pretty much essential reading for any school leader if this talk was anything to go by. This is going to be a significantly important area of our school’s work in the coming years, a point rammed home for me when the panel concluded that, in spite of all the focus on designing an effective curriculum, students who don’t have the literacy skills to access the curriculum will render it useless to them. Or, as Dianne put it beautifully (and illustrated with an example of a young man she had worked with who made a reading age gain of more than nine years in one year), “don’t put a ceiling on what children can do”.

Five research giants and what they mean in class – Paul Kirschner

Like Tom’s session, Paul’s was erudite and informative. I found myself writing and writing, which was just what he was advocating in place of taking photos of his slides. Another bucket list of articles and books to read. I think I’ll have enough to ResearchED 2020 at this rate. And yet another book on the way, this one a joint effort between Paul and Carl Hendricks on “How Learning Happens”. I guess that my Amazon Christmas list will be easy to write. In common with Tom, a key concern was ensuring that the different needs of novice and expert learners are considered in how we plan lessons and plan professional learning for staff. For my own teaching of History, I think I’ll be trying to learn more about Reigeluth’s ideas around elaboration, zooming in from the bigger concepts into the smaller details and then out again before zooming in to other small details to help students build their schemata of my subject.

What are the practices that make a school sustainably successful – Teach First – Emily Sundorph

This was one of the most straightforward sessions I have attended. Structured like an academic paper, Emily walked us through the research Teach First has been doing (again, shortly to be published – argh) into what it says on the tin of the title of this session. In brief, there were three key findings about sustainable school improvement that enhances both academic outcomes and working conditions. These schools pay heed not only to practices but also to how they are being done. They are outward-facing and networked. And they prioritise consistency. They do these things in a number of ways, three of which this session elaborated. Firstly, they prioritise the retention of staff through professional learning, a focus on wellbeing and managing workload. Secondly, they prioritise behaviour management through clarity and consistency, staff buy-in and supportive pastoral systems. Finally, they prioritise teaching and learning through research-informed classroom methods that are clear to all, shared planning and attempts to reduce the impacts of data and marking loads. Nothing particularly strikingly unobvious in all of this, I hear you cry, and you’d be right. But no less important for that.

Simplifying school improvement – Jo Facer

Having listened to so many new friends on my Twitter/blogging journey, it was good to watch someone who was one of the original crowd from back in 2012/3. Jo has always been one of my favourites in the edutwittersphere because she is so nice, so well-informed, so classroom focused and so original in her approach. This was a good way to finish a good day. Jo’s was a bright and breezy presentation, full of the joys of – well- of being in a room with Jo (has anyone ever seen her cross?). Even though she took umbrage with a lot of poor practices, such as drowning colleagues in paperwork or failing to provide them with a coherent and consistent behaviour policy, she comes back with better ways of doing school leadership. And what each of these has in common is that it is simpler or, indeed, just plain simple. Why spend untold hours devising and drafting a vision statement when we pretty much all know what the vision of every school is and should be? Why hold people to account for things that they cannot control, such as the eleven years of education that they experience before they enter your GCSE class? Why indeed. In fact, Jo’s session was a perfect conclusion to a day when I kept coming back to the same question time and time again: how can we spend less time doing less important or even completely irrelevant stuff when that time would be better spent reading book’s like Jo’s and those others on my brim-filled reading list. So much of what we do is focused on proving that we are doing stuff and so little in ensuring that we are thinking about what we are doing. It’s definitely time for a more no-frills approach.

And so my day came to an end. I’m pretty sure it was my best ResearchED national conference ever. I say ‘pretty sure’ because what I’ve learnt in the past is that the ideas generated by the unsettling process of attending one of these conferences can settle in unpredictable ways. That’s the point, I guess. I have four or five things that I think will influence my next steps as a teacher and headteacher, but with all the reading I now have ahead of me, and all the discussions that will follow that, who knows what will happen next. After all, it’s that time of the school year again where anything is possible.


Some non-academic highlights of my day.

  • Sitting next to a stranger in Paul’s session and having a natter about beards and Ofsted before realising that he’s my great twitter friend @deadshelley. Was a really joyful bit of serendipity.
  • Admitting a leading academic (who I later went on to watch) through the back gates because he couldn’t navigate his way to the front entrance.
  • Seeing the wonderful John Tomsett looking reinvigorated and sharing stories about finding a new joy in headship.
  • Lovely hugs from John, Beth Greville-Giddings, Gwen Nelson and an equally lovely kiss from my old mate Alex Wetherall.
  • ‘Winning’ a mini-torch from Teacher Tapp having been chastised by Laura McInerney for not having previously downloaded the app (heads are busy too).
  • Seeing my colleague Steve refuse a lunch because “I’ve eaten here before.”
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