Research Ed 2013 Review

Posted on 08-09-2013

I had the most brilliant time at the Research Ed conference yesterday. Here’s my quick summary of the day.

Dulwich College
Dulwich College is very beautiful. There were lots of old photos of the cricket XIs on the wall which were quite nostalgic and got me thinking about PG Wodehouse and the Mike and Psmith stories. We were in the Lord George building, named after Eddie George. Of course former Bank of England governors are all very well, but I do hope there is a statue of Wodehouse somewhere about the grounds. (Update – I looked this up and it turns out the library is named after him. Good work!)

Ben Goldacre
I am a huge Goldacre fan but have never seen him speak, so I was very much looking forward to this. He was excellent. I particularly liked his list of the ‘energy-zappers’ – the people you just have to avoid. Too true.

Dan Willingham
I introduced this video interview of Dan Willingham being interviewed by Tom Bennett. Tom’s first question was ‘Is psychology a science?’ Dan talked about the difficulty of defining science at all, and used the famous Justice Stewart quotation – ‘I know it when I see it.’ I really like this quotation and find it is applicable in all sorts of situations, but of course the context of it does mean I use it rather less often than I’d like to. Dan also said that ‘every teacher inevitably has a theory about how pupils learn’. This was a major theme of my own speech, so I pinched this line to use there.

Joe Kirby and Becky Allen
Joe and Becky talked about whether Teach First was working or not. They introduced a lot of the research that had been done on this issue and talked about some of the methodological problems with the research.

Rob Coe
There was no lunch break at research Ed, so I took my lunch break in this session and therefore only caught a bit of what Rob said. However, I heard him express scepticism as to the value of lesson observations and Ofsted inspections. Hear, hear. He also wondered aloud whether the problem was partly Ofsted judgments, but also partly teachers being spineless in the face of Ofsted pressure. I have heard other people I respect take this line. It’s a difficult one. The problem, as Andrew Old often points out, is that it isn’t just Ofsted inspections – it’s that very often, senior management use Ofsted criteria in the day-to-day running of the school. This makes it very hard for the individual teacher to stand out against Ofsted criteria.

My speech
I spoke about the importance of good theory for classroom practice. More detailed summary here. At the end of this speech I bumped into one of my old teachers from school which was really lovely!

Sam Freedman
Sam was very insightful about the problems and pressures of policy-making. He spoke about the way the civil service works and how there isn’t always enough research on important issues. For example, he noted that there have only been 2 robust surveys of academies in the UK, compared to hundreds in the US on charters, and that the Gates Foundation spent $52 million dollars on one piece of education research, while the annual budget of all the major UK education research organisations is £50 million. (Apologies if I am a bit inaccurate here – my notes aren’t that clear!)

Katie Ashford
This was the most entertaining speech I went to. It was about how we could reform teacher training. Katie completely captured the mood and tone of teacher training at the moment, as you could see from the nods and nervous laughter from the audience. At one point, when Katie was talking about ‘being a reflective teacher’, I felt as though the clock had turned back. It was 2007, Umbrella was blaring out on the radio, Anil Kumble was scoring his maiden Test century in between the Biblical downpours, and I was sitting in Canterbury reflecting on what it meant to be a teacher.

The people
It was lovely to catch up with lots of people. But in particular, it was good to finally meet the famous Barry Smith, who was just as smart and entertaining as his Twitter persona. I took my mother along as my guest and she had a great time too, putting names to the faces of people she’s read on Twitter. Good times. And thanks very much to Tom, Helene, everyone at Dulwich and at Research Ed for organising such a great day.