The future is not what it was…. # SLF11reflections (with postscript now added)

Fresh from wandering the dusty streets of theEducationVillageI decided to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) on this year’s education event of the year.  The dusty streets perhaps best epitomise an event that now needs a serious review, an injection of new ideas or a complete overhaul.  In previous years the education village ‘streets’ were packed with educators sharing ideas, resources and sharing energy and enthusiasm.  This year there was an apathetic feel to the walkways that almost had tumbleweed passing between them.  Mike Russell’s opening speech made comment on the ‘intimate’ environment he was presenting in.  He must have felt like a rock star moving from the O2 arena to King Tut’s Wah Wah tent (and a downward move for all the wrong reasons!).

Mr Russell left more questions than answers.  Questions are normally good in education, but not this time. 

  • Why was Geography and a study of our land not mentioned in plans for Scottish Studies?
  • What have educators being doing with post 16 year olds up to now?  There was no acknowledgement of the effort and hard work put in by so many to help support this group.
  • Is imagination and innovation driven by a positive desire for change or for balancing budgets?

Later in the speech Russell made an error in tenses in that he said, “if you have not read it, read it”[both ‘read’ as in the ‘to read’ tense].  His failure to correct this stumble perhaps summed up an unwillingness to pause, accept failures or publically change.  It was an uncomfortable start to an uncomfortable festival. 

His keynote was followed by a high level, aspirational speech from Canadian speaker Dr Ben Levin.  Whilst interesting for all its high level messages, one got the feeling that the audience had heard it all before.  The days of being mesmerised by highly paid speakers from foreign lands has perhaps gone.  What educators in Scotland want to hear, and need to hear, is the firm assurances of stability, clear messages of strategic direction and solid Scottish examples of leading practice on “how to do it.”  Prescriptions no; trail blazers, proven practitioners and foundation setters, yes.   We have a wealth of good practice here in Scotlandand it was sad to see that not one of them presented a keynote speech in the Scottish Learning Festival.  Indeed, the lack of teachers itself was perhaps telling.  Cuts, tight cover expenditure and a requirement to ‘pull the horns in’ and focus on attainment all reduced the number of teachers allowed out.  Now that is the push factor dealt with, what about pull factors.  To be honest the programme was a bit “same old”.  There was little to wow the crowds and again little teacher input to the events on offer.  Perhaps future events need to be regional and back to a “by the teachers, for the teachers” focus.

Delight is the only word that can be used to sum up the feelings of many when Sir John Jones left the stage as the final keynote speaker. Thankfully, it was not the delight to see the back of him!  It was delight to hear someone speaking in our language* and with messages and inspiration that had instant impact and resonance with a war weary audience.  Sir John Jones received a standing ovation.  Many of those standing had eyes welling up, bottom lips trembling or hearts pounding with the sort of pride that should be associated with our profession.  We can make a difference, we do make a difference and the difference we make is acknowledged.  That was the message I took from Jones.  What was more, it was sincere (despite his quip in opening lines…if you have not seen it you need to watch the video clip online).  If only the first two keynotes had achieved Jones’s impact.

Jones’s speech hit me for all the right reasons and put smiles on the faces of many as they left the hall.  However it was the end of Levin’s output that also brought a smile to my face.  More significantly, it brought a smile to my face on the very theme Jones was to lecture on immediately afterwards; The future is not what it was. 

I sat next to an old LTS colleague who can only be described as an inspiration in using technology to enhance and promote education.  During the early part of Levin’s speech I had my phone out taking messages and arranging meetings between sessions. However, my colleague had his phone out for the duration.  Sat behind me was a well kent face in education; a respected former headteahcer.  Following Levin’s keynote my former colleague popped his phone back into his jacket pocked, shook my hand and headed for the dusty village streets.  My former headteacher colleague sat beside me tapped me on the shoulder;

“Who was that?”  I told him who it was and how inspirational and effective he was. 

“What was the point of him being here?” the former headteacher replied.  My surprised look prompted him to continue, “he was on the phone throughout”.

“Ah” I replied, “he was tweeting”


“Aye, if you go on to his twitter page you will get a shortened summary of the presentation, his views on it and also be able to read others initial thoughts at the hashtag.”


It appears that the education village was not the only thing that was dusty at SLF this year.  However the last word goes to Sir Jones Jones.  He talked about the need for pride, a bit of heart and ‘ganas’ in education.  Both of my former colleagues have it. Both have it in very different ways.  Both have impact on the classroom and on our young people.  Both colleagues should have been on that stage before, and indeed alongside, Sir John Jones.  What is more they should be on stage four times in a year going around this country taking the word to educators in regional events with a focus on twilight sessions for those unable to get out of school.  Maybe then the dusty streets will throng with crowds again, the profession will be energised and everyone will take away something positive to have an impact on a classroom.  After all it is that outcome we all strive towards.

For those of you who did not see Sir John Jones.  Here he is in full:-


And now the wee update on the above that I never managed to add in last night as I put finger to keypad….. Whilst the main auditorium may have been smaller and the streets half empty in the village two events around the ‘main event’ caught my eye and also clearly caught the eye of many others in the education world (thankfully including practicing teachers).  David Cameron and Laurie O’Donnell’s SLF Fringe brought together a wide range of interested parties for a fantastic event.  I had hoped to be there but diary commitments meant only one day away from the office was ever going to be possible.  However the day is more than adequately captured in this excellent blog post.

The second event was after the main event.  On the evening of the first day another of the contagious (in a good way) TeachMeet’s took place at the Glasgow Science Centre.  The evening was filled with the usual mix of interesting inputs.  The main hall was packed to capacity and there was a real buzz of excitement in the room.  In particular the break out ’round table’ discussions were first class and brought together a range of educators all with various experiences, knowledge, skills, expertise and inputs to offer.  Well done to @owexelstein and the TM team for putting together another great event.  This particular event was well captured in the following blog post:-

However, for me the ‘#’ story remains my highlight of #SLF11.  Can we please have both of them on stage next year?!


About neilsgleeeclub

Educator, writer, speaker and leader. Views are my own and not those of the organisations I work for or represent.
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