Wellington College Festival of Education June 25-26th 2011: Gerry Hillier Manolas reports

Wellington College threw open its doors to the cream of the education world over this weekend and welcomed all those that support and work in the profession. Eteach was there in force to speak with teachers and heads and discuss ways in which we can help with recruitment.

From Secretary of State Michael Gove to Sir Bob Geldoff, Sir Robert Winston and David Starky (to name but a few) the programme was packed with superb speakers. It was such a hard decision to decide which sessions to target and which to leave out, that one visitor admitted to starting in one session and sneaking out the back half way through, to visit another.


Credit must go to Anthony Seldon, Head of Wellington College, in organising a festival which featured an open forum to discuss and debate a range of topics across education. These included Free Schools, the current pension situation, what makes for a good education, how to turn schools around and various developments in different curriculum areas. And these were just the tip of the iceberg!

I was fortunate enough to hear Anthony Seldon outline in his opening presentation the vision and aspiration he has for all his students at Wellington College and the importance of developing the whole student, not just the academic aspect. He also spoke of his commitment to Wellington Academy in Wiltshire, where they are working hard with the state sector to give students there the grounding and aspirations that students at the College already experience. Best of all was hearing from the students themselves, who talked about their experiences at Wellington and what they felt was important in their own education.

Another session was led by Peter Hyman who originally started as a strategist to Tony Blair. He has since trained as a teacher and is shortly to head up a Free School in Newham. When questioned by the audience whether he would have advised the PM in the same way, now he has experienced teaching for himself, he replied that the outcomes would have been the same, but that maybe the methodologies would have been less prescriptive. He was also pressed by several attendees from the Newham area, where his Free School will be based, as to why he felt he could only achieve his aspirations for children via a Free School and not through the LA. If the legacy of Labour education was so good why wasn’t he supporting it and working within the government sector dealing with all the never-ending initiatives and red tape they had to work through? He replied that he wants to work alongside these schools and look at good practice and learn from them too. However, he wanted to focus on English Language as ‘the driver’ for all things and a set of skills that would infiltrate all aspects of a child’s education. These include teamwork, problem solving, confidence, interpersonal skills, self-awareness, resilience, initiative, commitment and motivation. Nothing different then to his ‘state’ colleagues down the road!

The final keynote speech of the day was a question and answer session with Michael Gove. Generally people were polite with their questions, the toughest ones being about the pensions strike and why does education always have to be driven by politics, whoever was in power at the time? Why were successive governments always changing what was being taught and why couldn’t they just leave teachers to do their jobs? He said it was the government’s responsibility on behalf of the electorate to hold teachers accountable, to focus on continuing to raise standards and to move back up the world education ranks rather than continuing to sink lower. Politics needs to drive education, to ensure our education system keeps up with a changing world where economics, social and technological developments are evolving all the time. This final question seemed to link back to where Anthony Seldon started that morning: What are we educating our young people for? Is it to fit neatly into society? For business and the economy? Or purely as learners of knowledge?

Tell us your ideas: What are we educating young people for?

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