Joy and knowledge

20 things I learned from #ukfechat


1- Clapham is not the same place as Clapton. Definitely not. Not remotely. This doesn’t stop me from being convinced Clapham is where we’re going and people telling me in person, over the phone, via Twitter DMs, What’s App and Facetime somehow leaves me even more convinced that Clapham is absolutely where we’re going. Until I pretend we’re going to see Eric Clapton and this means I will make it to the right place after all!

2- It is possible to hang around Paddington very early on Saturday morning for more than half an hour by not checking that tubes are actually running in the direction you need to go in… Even being relaxed enough to take a selfie with the queen of selfies! The relaxed vibe will suddenly be broken by a mad dash to the other end of the station upon realisation of the error though.


3- It is then possible, due to a lack of sleep, excitement and nerves, for this to result in me being an uber level of hyper that I haven’t felt in quite some time. So much so that it actually seems a real possibility for Rachel and I to facilitate our workshops on the streets of London with unsuspecting Londoners and stream it live to the conference. A whole ‘teachers on tour’ concept is born and it’s only just gone 9am!


4- At an education conference, you will find that you get to say about two words to someone you know before another person appears to say hello. The world of FE is small and the world of Twitter means that a conference is an opportunity to finally meet someone in the flesh- expect hugs from avatars you’ve only spoken to in bouts of 140 characters.

5- We are pretty good in FE at knowing how to use a conference as an opportunity to develop our students- giving them work to do and asking them to open the day with their music (on this occasion, the fabulous BSix students).

Evidence-based managing

Dr Gary Jones

6- Evidence-based leadership decisions aren’t taken often enough in the sector. We. need to develop the habit of challenging common assumptions (they’ll likely emerge as myths). Education contains far too many swings of the fad pendulum- early enthusiasm followed by widespread dissemination before something’s been fully tested. The world of education is also accustomed to providing a home for zombie ideas: the concept that one day CPD workshops will bring about changes in behaviour and practice, for instance. They’re ideas that just won’t die; we need to lead with caution when it comes to what’s now ‘accepted practice’. 

7- We shouldn’t leap straight from what the evidence tells us into implementing it; we have a duty, as leaders, to be far more conscientious, explicit and judicious in our decision making. This requires consideration: asking, acquiring, appraising, aggregating, applying and assessing. Our big decisions should always take into account these four things: 

  1. Scientific research findings
  2. Professional experience and judgement
  3. Organisational data, facts and figures
  4. Stakeholders’ values and concerns

We have a duty, as leaders, to make our use of evidence clearer to our staff; explicitly sharing the assumptions and evidence that underpins our thinking. It is in this way that we can build a profession that is more evidence-aware.


8- Sarah Simons, somehow, persuaded me to facilitate a session on ‘Making the Most of Meetings’. Earlier this year, I created a ‘meetings kit’ that is now making its way around The Sheffield College- one leader passing it to another and using the tools and ideas it contains in their meetings. I had a small number of attendees but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and all were incredibly willing participants; contributing great ideas. Here’s my post about the meetings kit. Click below to access the slides from my session:



Paul Dix

9- Paul Dix is just as engaging in person as he is on video and he speaks a lot of sense about behaviour. I have recently adopted the ‘meet and greet’ as well as positive post-its whilst students are working and their impact has so far wowed me. Gems shared by Paul included:

I made my 30 day pledge at the end of Paul’s session and it was to use the phrase ‘I noticed’ in approaching students’ behaviour or perhaps disengagement with an activity: ‘I’ve noticed you’ve had trouble getting started today, am I right?’ It was also to continue holding my hand out- for as long as it takes- with each of my learners. Not to give up on them after a week, after a few, even after a couple of terms. When they’re ready, I’ll be there to support them (That’s always been as easy as it sounds!)




10-I learned that I am privileged enough to know a whole host of awesome people who I nominated to speak and were in the middle of running their fantastic workshops whilst I was enjoying Paul Dix’s session:

Rachel George was sharing her ‘Me, Myself and I’ project: an idea conceived after a conversation I had with a colleague at Reading. An idea I didn’t know what to do with but I knew exactly the person who might. The incredible way she’s turned a concept about making sure learners are on the right course into a project that makes her students into a family who all stay until the end of the year is exactly why I chose to nominate her.

Liz Lang was sharing her time management techniques; a session that was facilitated at Reading to business support staff, leaders and others as part of the AoC Beacon Award winning Pass It On CPD programme. Liz works as a curriculum coordinator but takes it upon herself to also make incredible corridor displays for the sixth form, is a safeguarding officer and is currently studying an MA in Education. With numerous commitments in the community and with her family outside of work, I couldn’t think of anyone better placed to facilitate a workshop on time management.

It was really great to see the developmental obs system devised by The Sheffield College team (including one of my team, Helen Hayes) @sheffcol going down so well with conference attendees:

Paul, I may have to confess that I was a little absorbed in Twitter at some points during your session as what was happening in Graeme Hathaway‘s workshop was really exciting!

English and maths-ing

Julia Smith

11- There is a magical way to do times tables and it involves a pair of Marigolds and Julia Smith. Impromptu development at lunchtime is the best kind:


Paul Joyce

12-  English and maths as a limiting grade doesn’t exist. This is categorically the case. It’s absolutely NOT a limiting grade. This year will be slightly different to last year with regards to how inspectors will look at English and maths to place an emphasis on this being the case. When the support and challenge visits took place last year after an RI Inspection, inspectors really had a problem in getting over E&M and colleges’ perception was that the ONLY thing leading to their grade 3 had been E&M. The reporting framework inspectors had didn’t help because if E&M was an issue, it had been reported repeatedly in the report- in multiple sections. E&M also got talked about in every meeting inspectors went to. Whilst its importance and weighting hasn’t changed- inspectors have been advised to have a couple of meetings to focus on E&M and then not bring it up again in any other meetings. They’ve been told to report it once in the report and not throughout. For instance- in the L&M section and not anywhere else.

13- GCSE resit policy has put extra stress on colleges. There is a lot of discussion around this in government and the effect is being considered- he and Ofsted are contributing evidence to this discussion. There are some serious questions to ask- is the GCSE the right qualification for everybody? Is it a realistic expectation for students to move from a D to a C? He later confided that we need to look at the qualifications currently being offered- they’re not what our students want/need. There is a growing collection of evidence about whether the GCSE is the right direction to be headed. 


Paul Joyce

14- Ofsted’s sole focus will be on the student and the progress they make from their starting points through their journey- over time. This is the number one thing they’ll try to judge. They’re interested in how you plan, track and monitor students’ progress but they’re looking for progress. They’ll take as wide a view as possible- performance of cohorts, work scrutiny- especially second years- what they did 1st and then 2nd year. They’ll look at our records. Prior attainment. They’ll use as many different evidence sources as possible and then explore TLA as a whole, which informs the other info. Discussions with you and students too. The weighting inspectors place on one session is quite small. Snapshot judgements are not reliable and not valid. The process is about looking end to end. 


Liz Leek

15- There’s this leader on my doorstep, and she’s awesome: Liz Leek. She admitted to feeling like a fraud; awaiting the knock at the door that would mean she’s been found out (a feeling that would resonate with many within the @WomenEd network). Liz sees her role as being about developing other people so they develop students in the right way and building positive relationships is the foundation for this work. She builds a culture of trust with her staff and students; providing multiple opportunities to ‘feed up informally’. This unearths honest feedback from all but also gives students the responsibility to speak up. This responsibility extends to her staff; they’re the expert therefore she trusts them with decisions but this also makes them accountable for the decisions they make.

16- Politics and education co-parent tomorrow. Liz is not afraid to bring her politics to work and encourages all of her students and staff to do the same to that values and beliefs can be shared and challenged in a safe environment, conducive to learning. It’s important that students are taught the value of community and so, every year, all of her staff and students attend remembrance day ceremonies in the town. This makes the students more aware of their context but also results in the community being proud of her students. The behaviour of her college’s students becomes a discourse in that their ‘rule’ is ‘there is no anti-social behaviour’. This makes the ‘policy’ fluid enough to adapt to changing circumstances and behaviours. In dealing with students’ behaviour, we must consider ‘desire paths’- those paths made as the quickest and easiest route, rather than the one the town planners produced for us. Students are always making desire paths and carving their own way out- we need to consider why they’ve taken that path rather than the one, as adults, we laid out for them: this informs decisions in her college.

17- The culture Liz has created has an absolute and fundamental commitment to fun as well as well being. They have a college dog and she has a range of essential oil diffusers for staff to use in sessions, in meetings or to take home with them. Knowing how stress would affect some of their students, they created an exam prep room with sensory lights, headphones and staff on hand for last minute questions. Her staff make use of walking tutorials throughout the year; adding a different dimension to these coaching conversations but they aren’t all about the well being- students are still expected to write down their targets upon their return.

18- Three questions drive Liz’s continued development as a leader and I think they’re useful questions for any leader to contemplate on a regular basis:

  1. Is it possible for a principal not to turn into a sociopath?
  2. How does a leader make sure that they get the truth about what’s happening in the organisation?
  3. How does a leader switch off?



19- I’m not one for speaking up too often– it takes quite a lot before I feel comfortable to share my point of view. It takes time for me to feel I’m able to articulate my thoughts clearly to others. I am clear about one thing after the Big UKFEchat though: the sector needs to get better at shouting about itself; not in a ‘Cinderella / victim’ kind of a way but in a ‘Here’s what we’re doing and it’s great’ kind of a way. I feel that an overwhelming helplessness has crept into the sector in recent years as a result of our constant battering, funding cuts, area reviews and raising of the bar. Relying on others to pass our messages, challenges and good practice isn’t the answer (I’ve never been a fan of hierarchical communication routes- they’re slow and often end up as a game of Chinese whispers). We need to be unicorns instead (a la Peter Benyon) and challenge our colleagues to behave differently; asking the difficult questions of our leaders, contributing to policy discussions and debates by submitting ideas, and leading the way by showing what a different future for the sector might look like through experimenting and above all, collaborating. How many of us, working in the sector, have truly collaborated on projects, research or innovations with colleagues from other Colleges, schools or organisations? This conference demonstrated the value in sharing and getting our heads together so let’s not wait for a Saturday once a year to do this. Let’s hold more Teachmeets, let’s connect with one another beyond 140 characters (in person, with emails, via video, Google Docs or even by letter). I’ll be making a commitment to this and I’ll be sharing my journey- this will start with a post in the next few days (hopefully!)- What will your unicorn pledge be?


20- There’s a chocolate and raspberry cake you can buy at Borough Market and it will change your life!


My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for this informative and entertaining review of the conference! I am a colleague of Julia’s and I know how much she enjoyed the event too, regularly sharing many of the key messages during the day on Twitter. Your Making the Most of Meetings slides are excellent by the way. Thanks for taking the time to share your reflections and presentation with us!

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