Whole Education’s Summer Conference provided a day of innovation, inspiration and motivation for professionals looking to provide a ‘whole education’ so that students are prepared for life after the official education system. It was a day full of success stories and groundbreaking ideas which did not disregard the benefits of more traditional provision.
The day launched with a fantastic presentation by Shireland Collegiate Academy who set the standard for the rest of the conference. Shireland wanted to share their “journey to Outstanding” with other like-minded schools aiming for success whilst implementing an ethos of whole education. A founding Pathfinder school, Shireland relayed their journey of ups and downs: the down accumulating in an Ofsted report of ‘special measures’ in 2010, after previously being championed by the likes of Tony Blair and being graded as ‘Outstanding’ for the last three Ofsted inspections. Their ‘path to Outstanding’ was truly inspirational for schools reaching for the same status through similar methods, but was delivered by a very humble team of people who recognise that their achievements were hard-won but entirely possible for any school. Sir Mark Grundy, the Executive Principal of Shireland outlined the tough climb back to excellence and the areas that they targeted for improvements. Within the same year as the condemning Ofsted inspection, Year 11 attendance had risen from 83% to 95%, exclusions were at a record low and predicted GCSE grades were at a record high. Instead of exclusion, pupils were submitted to an alternative timetable and lunchtimes with the teacher. Another turning point for the Academy was the decision to focus on the transition period between Year 6 and Year 7 and Shireland’s collaboration efforts with their local feeder schools. Shireland demonstrated that a holistic approach to learning can produce significant results and this example resonated with people throughout the day.
Attendees were also encouraged to explore and discuss in small table sessions how schools are using the network to support innovation and improvement. They were also asked to consider how effective they felt Whole Education was in supporting local school and teaching alliances. This helped introduce the prospect of possible involvement in Peer Reviews with other Pathfinders, a new offer of the network which allows schools to visit and share ideas with other schools within the network. These discussions helped kick start the Interest Group sessions. Teachers and representatives joined sessions designed to target specific areas within and beyond the school curriculum. These sessions allowed schools to provide feedback, report progress, provide solutions and inform members of innovation and development opportunities. It also created a platform for partner organisations to share their ideas for schools to trial. The Head Teachers’ Roundtable Curriculum and Qualification Framework, Makewaves, DigitalME, IRIS Connect and the Teachers Development Trust all provided opportunities to trial new innovations in schools. Furthermore, the benefits and drawbacks of pedagogical approaches such as Project Based Learning, pupil-led curriculum, and flipped learning were also discussed within these groups. Enthusiasm for innovative teaching techniques, the expansion of the network and a passion for a ‘whole education’ were further magnified and educators had the opportunity to discuss and share experiences and ideas. Each Interest Group was informed of the next Interest Group specific event or webinar, and considered the action needed to facilitate future progress.
After a short break to rest the minds that were buzzing with new ideas and enthusiasm, the evening started with a presentation from Prof Mick Waters and Dr John Dunford to remind us why we believe in the importance of well-rounded education for and also the value of being involved in an ever-expanding network of pioneering schools. Following this, an awards ceremony ensued to congratulate all the schools and individuals who have contributed to the development of the Whole Education Network. The feeling of community and excitement was tangible from the start to the finish only making it clearer that a solid national network is expanding and Whole Education’s collective capacity is being increasingly utilised. I think all those present would agree that the future is exciting.
Thank you to our intern, Sophie, for sharing her reflections following the Summer Conference.