Lucy had made a short video to promote her forthcoming book about the best-performing countries around the world,
using some young St. Helen's College children to represent the different countries that she had visited, and she managed to show this to about a thousand people in the largest marquee between two of the top speakers! (Ken Robinson and Carole Dweck)
I would recommend the experience of the festival for anyone interested in education. The Festival managed to gather all the big names in education, including Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education. Anthony Seldon, the Head of Wellington College, probably exerts his high profile influence! It had a real festival atmosphere and there was a choice of about 16 talks every 40 minutes so the choice one made was rather important and it was easy to experience the 'fear of missing out'! People rather voted with their feet and would walk out of a talk that they deemed inferior so that they could catch another preferable talk, which must have been rather off-putting for the speakers!
The first talk I attended was about Educating the Most Able. This whole area is interestingly controversial at the moment because of the idea of Growth Mindset. There are children who are born with a higher IQ or talent than others, but the Growth Mindset theory does put forward that it is the hours of practising whatever the ability or talent is in, rather than the ability/talent itself, that makes the child successful. Their premise was the importance of identifying and stretching these children; in some situations there can be difficulty in spotting them because many do not want to be spotted and challenged, and also to be on an Able and Talented list can be a kind of stigma where learning isn't 'cool.' Often these highly able children are not resilient and can do badly at university because they have been used to succeeding with very little effort. They see the need to try at anything as showing stupidity. They may not have been challenged previously and have never had the experience of failing, and so don't know how to pick themselves up and try again. The speaker was Ian Warwick of the London Gifted and Talented Organisation and there are many resources on their website http://www.londongt.org/?page=home.
I then opted for a talk given by a scientist, Professor Robert Plomin, on IQ and whether this is affected by nature or nurture. It was a highly scientific talk and based on comparing identical twins. ‘Heritability' or traits showing genetic influence are very strong in any child, but it is impossible to clearly separate what is affected by external factors (nurture) and what is innate in the child and inherited from its parents (nature) as each is affected by the other. There were plenty of different percentages given (and some did go over my head) but a summary might be that the choice of education setting in the primary phase does make around a 40% difference (nurture) whereas in the secondary phase the children
are influenced more by their own choices e.g. what subjects they choose to study and the company that they keep, and this makes them more subject to their own genes (nature) so their environment apparently has less effect on their progress. However high their IQ they still need to be educated, e.g. learning the skills of reading, but their own innate ability is more evident in the secondary phase when they can choose their own path and do the activities where they genetically excel, whereas in the primary phase they are more influenced by their educational experience at school. If this is unclear you may like to read his book; 'Behavioural Genetics.' So my understanding from this, though I may be wrong, is that the primary school you choose for your child is supremely important!
I attended a lecture by Dylan Wiliam who was responsible for creating the levels in the National Curriculum. He spoke about the national testing systems and said that there is a high level of error in the tests, which means that you would not get a valid understanding of a child's progress if you tested too regularly, because of the margin of error. For example, in a reading test the standard margin of error is equivalent to 6 months of progress in reading. We are aware of this at St. Helen's and while we do test the children on a regular basis we don't report all the results to the parents because there would be too many ups and downs. By looking at the cumulative effect over a longer period of time we get a more accurate idea of the child's progress.
Another well known speaker I heard was Guy Claxton. His talk was so packed out at first that I was sitting on the floor at his feet, and had to curl up my legs every now and again so that he didn't trip over me! He has written a book called 'Educating Ruby' and the idea of this is that she is the grand-daughter of Rita and is a hair-dresser. She writes to her teacher in her primary school when she is 21 and thanks the teacher for all that she had been taught. Not having pursued an academic path the teacher asks her exactly what she means and it is the qualities that have been taught, such as resilience, self-worth, grit, gratitude, independence, optimism, courage, zest for life and social intelligence for which she is grateful. Children who develop these qualities are more successful and happier in their lives. Guy Claxton had spoken to the counselling departments at Oxford and Cambridge universities and been told of the high number of students who had been spoon-fed through their education, having been taught for the tests, and so lacked the resilience or the creative thought necessary to deal with the pressures of learning at these top universities. So these children had the IQ and the inherited brilliant genes, but without the qualities listed above they were unable to cope.
As parents at St. Helen's will hopefully recognise, we do value, promote and try to develop all these qualities in the children and recognise their importance in the development of the whole child. Teaching the children to learn independently is very important to us at St. Helen's, and is why we ask the Year 6 pupils to do a project of their own choice in the summer term, as they have to be resourceful and do their own research. We teach the skills that they will need to do this throughout their time at St. Helen's College and we would like to think that we are encouraging resourceful children who can initiate projects and be creative in their learning. Across the school, the teachers are careful to ask open questions where the answers require thinking and deep understanding. It is why we have now trained all the teachers in Philosophy for Children, because they can use the skills of allowing the children to be inspired by a stimulus and to have a class conversation, in which the teachers can hear what the children already know, and so can teach what the children need to know rather than what the teacher has prepared for them to learn, whether the children already know it or not!
I attended many other talks, including Lucy's where staff were turning people away at the door because there wasn't enough room for all the people who wanted to attend! There is a lot of interest in education at the moment in what the best performing schools around the world are doing and how they are getting higher educational scores in the PISA test than Britain (Britain is about middle of all the countries), and so Lucy's ability to be in the classrooms around the world and find out what is really happening, and not just what that country is telling us, was creating a lot of interest! She is hoping that her book will appeal to everyone rather than just being a book for those studying education, so I am going to unashamedly attach the link to her book.
It is crowd-funded, which means that interested people pledge the money in advance of the book being written with just one excerpt to read as a taster, and then will receive the book when it is written. You may also be interested to see her video, which stars some of the St. Helen's College Year 1 children and one R2 child and is set in the Rainbow classroom.
We all value education and therefore watch with interest the latest research into how we can educate most effectively. At St. Helen's we know the importance of an all-round education, so that the children learn their academic subjects to the best of their ability, but also learn how to be the best that they can be in all the other ways possible. We nurture all aspects of their personality and skills, so that they will be successful and happy in whatever role they find themselves playing in life, making a positive difference to their community.
We've just sung the school song in assembly, and I think the children do feel a pride in their school. At this time when we are near to the end of the school year, we will soon be saying goodbye to our Year 6s. We wish all the leaving children the very best in the next step of their journey and hope that we have given them a good foundation for their future lives - and that they'll keep in touch with their St. Helen's family!
'Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.'
B. F. Skinner