Despite it being the weekend, Cross Country trains delivered me to Cheltenham on time, for which I was grateful. However I wasn’t inclined to share that gratitude with the passenger who failed to adequately stow his bag on the rack above me. Concussion before a day’s learning is not to be recommended!
Following a pleasant stroll into town, I found the campus of the University of Gloucester equally delightful and managed to navigate my way to Reception. The registration process was welcoming and efficient and I was soon enjoying a cup of coffee, whilst perusing the programme for the day.
Sue Cowley kicked off proceedings with ‘Big Lessons from Little Learners,’ an account of her recent experience with local Early Years provision, and the lessons that other phases of education might learn from the approaches used there. The focus was on how the needs of the children you care for, underpinned by one’s philosophy and values, should drive the provision, rather than attempting to meet external criteria imposed by the powers that be.
After a short break we could then opt into one of three streams; I chose research. This was subdivided into two sessions, the first lead by Michelle Haywood who outlined the SEND project Entrust was leading to support teachers in Staffordshire to undertake small-scale action research. It will be interesting to see how sustainable the process is if it becomes larger or is extended, a challenge also faced by the project described in the second session. Caroline Creaby and Sonia Dines explained how the ‘Evidence for the Frontline’ project had been initiated and how it sought to bridge the gap between teachers and researchers. Funded by the EEF, this was done through a website where teachers could ask a research question on a topic of importance to their practice, then someone from the research community would point them to any relevant research which had already been done.
Lunch was both generous and enjoyable, and afforded me the pleasure of spending time with Dr Paul Vare who gave me some background to educational provision at the university. Rob Webster had the unenviable after lunch slot in which he sought absolution for the research he and others conducted into the effectiveness of Teaching Assistants in English (?) schools. Misreported by the press, the research recommendations to review the way in which schools made use of TAs, became sensationalised into getting rid of them entirely. A cautionary tale of how the message can often be conveyed in a superficial way or even twisted completely. This had however spurred Paul and colleagues on to set in train better publicity, informative resources and to make available training courses to remedy the shortcomings. Perhaps the bad press had unanticipated beneficial outcomes?
Martin Robinson then gave a powerful performance advocating for a search for ‘truth and beauty.’ I shall say no more! Paul Vare completed the directed sessions with an outline of the LeaRN (Learning and Research Network) project which involved groups of teachers and schools in practitioner action research.
Perhaps partly because of my choice in the option strands, it felt like the theme of the conference was aligned more closely to research, than networking. ResearchEd rather than NetworkEd? Now that would be fine, but I felt the focus, for me, was too close to school and on research which was too small scale. But that just reflects my current interests and might be actually be much more helpful for the majority of attendees, who were of course teachers. My fault for not thinking through how the content was likely to be pitched. (Maybe on the feedback form, I ought to have suggested clearly stating conference aims?) As always though, having the opportunity to see and hear wise people tell their story is a learning experience in itself.