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Event review: Marches Academy Trust Festival of Education

Charley Rogers reports on the Marches Academy Trust Festival of Education, and its focus on how to encourage both staff and students

Posted by Lucinda Reid | July 24, 2017 | Events

This year’s Festival of Education from the Marches Academy Trust definitely exuded the British festival feeling, complete with crowds, event tents, and drizzle.

Despite the somewhat questionable weather, the day was certainly a success. Hosted by Marches Academy School in Oswestry, a packed schedule of speakers and workshops meant that there was never a dull moment on campus. The one-day festival was developed around the theme of leadership, and focused on various elements of CPD in the education sector, and on theories of learning and teaching. Amongst the distinguished speakers were Christine Quinn, Regional Schools Commissioner; David Weston, Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust; and Professor Robert Winston, Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College London, and TV presenter most famous for his ‘Children of Our Time’ series on the genetic and environmental developments of children born in the year 2000.

One of the main points that came out of this presentation was that two essential skills that all pupils need to be taught are resilience and persistence

A large proportion of the speakers’ addresses focused on the different ways in which we learn, and how to approach teaching children that may be facing different challenges. For example, Will Ord, Director of Thinking Education Ltd., addressed Carol Dweck’s theory of the ‘fixed’ mindset, and how that will affect a child’s learning and their ability to deal with setbacks and failure, as opposed to a ‘growth’ mindset, which allows a child to see every challenge as something to be learned, rather than conquered straight away. It was noted that many children with a ‘fixed’ mindset are very intelligent; often, the ‘brittle bright’ have been complimented by well-meaning parents on their abilities, rather than their effort. This causes the child to focus all of their self-worth on their particular abilities, and to fear failure, rather than viewing setbacks as a learning experience.

One of the main points that came out of this presentation was that two essential skills that all pupils need to be taught are resilience and persistence. If a pupil is able to learn constructively from their mistakes, and use this knowledge to improve their future strategies, then the mistake has not been a loss. However, if encountering a mistake negatively affects the child’s future performance, or image of themselves, they are likely to avoid future challenges for fear of further mistakes. It seems then, that monitoring the way in which praise is distributed, and a focus on process and strategy rather than outcome, is a more effective teaching method.

Professor Winston highlighted that the way in which we teach is just as important as what we teach

But the way in which we learn can in fact be changed. In his keynote speech, Professor Robert Winston approached the topic of neuroplasticity, and how everyone is capable of ‘rewiring’ their brains. Professor Winston stressed the importance of reiteration, or ‘practice’ in learning, and the inclusion of all the senses in the process. He also addressed the importance of empathy in learning, and the essential role that technology now plays. In discussing these various elements of the process of education – both formal and informal – Professor Winston highlighted that the way in which we teach is just as important as what we teach. The role of the teacher, said Professor Winston, is a very important one, and should not be taken lightly. In terms of improving pupils’ future prospects, and giving the same access to learning and development to all children, he made the inspiring point that, “we can overcome environment by what we give to the children,” and that the educational system should support the development of children from all different backgrounds and abilities.

The entire festival was an encouraging insight into how educational practices have developed over the last few decades, and how research continues to be done on how to improve teaching, understanding, and wellbeing of our children. Long may we continue to learn.  

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