The Scottish Learning Festival this year looks at first sight to be less than it once was. The exhibition space is significantly reduced and the footprint of the event on the SECC seems similarly diminished. Indeed, when I arrived at my usual time of a little before 8 to catch up with the “usual crowd”, they and the coffee culture bars were conspicuous in their absence.
Eventually, however, the buzz of teachers revelling in a day’s respite from the pressures of CfE, assessment, reporting, The Management, development and the NAR, soon filled the corridors of the venue. Estimates of four thousand delegates or more for this year seem optimistic but the registration desks were busy with people grabbing the opportunity to attend some of the many seminars and events running this year.
By the time I was shuffling into the Lomond for the Minister’s keynote, I had pressed the flesh with a good number of “the usual suspects” and was feeling good about coming through to the wild west for the day. The keynote itself was what it always is with Mike Russell – a stunning display of eloquent fast thinking, masterly deflection and a little more party political dogma than the delegates were comfortable with or entitled to. The presentation of the inaugural Robert Owen award seemed a little weird, with so many incredibly innovative educators in Scotland, as it was awarded to a fully-deserving-but-never-heard-of-in-Scotland educator from overseas who happened to be speaking at the conference this year. Doug Belshaw expressed the zeitgeist well.
It’s often a bit of a gamble when picking seminars to attend and I have once or twice been disappointed in the past. This year was no exception as the first session I attended was pitched as, “Science Challenges to Inspire and Motivate”. I forgave myself for thinking that this was going to be innovative and new. It wasn’t. It was no more than a badly-delivered sales pitch from an independent sector head of Chemistry who has set himself up a wee business on the side selling ideas remarkably similar to those found in other places, including the courses I teach at Edinburgh University.
In contrast, the afternoon session I attended on Developing early number concepts, delivered by Craig Lowther and Mandy Milton from Moray, was a high-quality and pragmatic session which itself used exemplary andragogy. This team shared some really rich ideas for developing number concepts in young children, including some highly effective and dirt-cheap resources, backed up by evidence of its efficacy and clear strategies for supporting teachers and parents. This was one of the best sessions I have seen in the past 6 years at the SLF.
Although the rest of the day was busy with meetings, touring the small exhibition, chatting to exhibitors and other delegates, the evening teachmeet event at the SQA was the butter icing in the cake of the day. The event was recorded and will be available to listen to over at edutalk.cc. There was the usual eclectic but nevertheless interesting mix of talks and round tables. I joined in with Frank Crawford‘s session on what makes a great teacher and really enjoyed the debate as we tried to identify what we, as educators, thought made a great one.
A number of us finished the day in a bar, eating and drinking, courtesy of the teachmeet sponsors CLA (thank you), who not only facilitated the event itself, but also contributed to the “common weal” by delivering a short talk on copyright and schools.
So, I’m sitting in the Key West cafe at the SECC as the place wakes up, having demanded coffee, pastries and a place to write well before opening time. I’ve been accommodated with all of these and the cheery people-centric demeanour of the staff here that is the characteristic of this curate’s egg of a country. For all that it’s a work in progress, I still believe that it offers the best place to work in education, in the world.