The Festival of Education 2012: The Teacher's Olympics

'You want what Anne Boleyn got? DO YOU?'
Last year, AA Gill christened it 'Glastonbury for swots'. This year, before anyone else cuts in, I'm dubbing it The Isle of Wight Festival for Edunerds . Or perhaps The Avalon for Teacher Tweeters, as I couldn't take a step without tripping over people I had only ever known as Funkalicious Pastry or Digital Classroom Integrator (Twitter bio: 'interested in innovation, new ways of learning,and 21st century classrooms!' Always the exclamation mark, always. My guide to exclamation marks: look back at whatever you've written, and if you see an exclamation  mark, take the damn thing out and stamp on it until it cracks.)

Or maybe it was the Ragnarok of David Starkey. He certainly seems to save up his best shit for the Festival every year It's his gift to the world, apparently. But I'll give you details as I get them, because, like some clueless anti-Cassandra, I neglected to witness the session where he and an Independent journalist had a jackets-and-jewellery-off ruck. The word on the fine shingled pavilions of Wellington was that he said....well, you know the kind of things he says, and she got all OH NO YOU JUST DIDN'T and he was all like YOU HEARD ME BITCH and she was all OH YOU DID NOT JUST CALL ME A BITCH and he was like BITCH ARE YOU DEAF?

Or something. I wasn't there. I easily missed the best bit of the day, unless Anthony Seldon's opening speech was more spectacular than even I imagined.  I can only hope that David Cannadine turns up tomorrow and tells Stephen Twigg to start turning the jobless into dogfoodor something, just to keep the momentum going.

If you're unfamiliar with the Festival of Education, it's quite something. In its third year, it attracts all the usual  people interested in education- digital robber-barons circling the booty of the education sector like privateers, ideologues, zealots of all poles, the well meaning, the opportunists, and so many axes to grind one can imagine that Middle Earth is quite empty of dwarfs. And me, of course. My axe is tiny. Fortunately I have a large classroom.

The Festival is like 'Nam. If you weren't there YOU DON'T KNOW.

It's interesting to see so many interests all congregating in one spot like this; I'm reminded of an arms trade fair. But I think the intention is genuine. I was having lunch with Gerard Kelly, the convivial, towering editor of the TES (I'm not joking; he could stunt double Optimus Prime) when the divine Mr Seldon, omnipresent host of the Teacher's Olympiad floated up; he quite rightly gazed at me with the slightly weary faraway stare of a man who has been running on self-belief and fumes for six months,and launched into an explanation of the water feature upon which we sat (I didn't say it was a particularly classy lunch- probably pulled unicorn or something) ,and how it detailed the eight aptitudes of the college. It saved me, at least, having to explain what I didn't do. And then he was off like Tinkerbell to point out the sandalwood basilisks in the chapel narthex to someone from Google.

I was waving my jazz hands twice today: once, interviewing Charlie Taylor, Behaviour B'wana to the DfE (trumping my mere Guru status considerably, which can be attained simply by delving into any box of Cheerios), and later with a solo gig in the Spirituality Room, which was...actually I don't know why it was called that. I think it was an aptitude. One I lack, clearly.

The Library, before they turned it into the Death Star's knickers
Because I was 'on' today, I neglected to see as many of the other bands as I should have- like being at a festival and missing Shakespeare's Sister because you were tuning up (see: Starkey). Charlie Taylor was, I thought, a sane, intelligent, experienced man in charge of a substantial brief in education, and no, I didn't expect to say that either. I've read most things he's written (I over-prepared like a fool; next time I'll just pick up that day's Metro or something) and I'd be hard pressed to find a substantive issue we disagree over in behaviour management. You'd almost think that anyone with experience of tough schools and challenging kids would intuitively come to the same practical conclusions. No, that would be CRAZY TALK.

The session seemed to go well. And ONLY ONE person asked one of those questions that isn't really a question, but a five minute monologue. Warning; if you do this, I will judge you. When someone launches into one, I just think 'Sometimes you cry when you check your inbox,' or 'Your parents' divorce is showing.'

I'm doing a another gig with CT next week at the DfE (home of initialisms), some sort of Q&A that's going to be live streamed. I'll tell you more when I know more, but we appear to be a bit of a double act, although I imagine he sees it more as a ship/ barnacle relationship.

Went to one session called,ominously 'What is education for?'. I say ominous because such discussions usually revolve around narcissists hopping up and down at each other like crows and waving their angry little fists as they reel off their pet topics at one another, to little avail. But Douglas Murray caught my interest; he started as badly as you could wish for, like a Polish farmer kick-starting his father's tractor, but when he found his stride, my God he was good. There's few things more impressive than watching an intelligent man find his voice and speak with confidence about something in which he is fluent. My favourite quote, in reference to (apparently) a video shown earlier in the day where Paul McCartney extolled the virtues of selective arbitrary taxonomies of diet (or vegetarianism), and he said, 'Why should we listen to him on the ethics of eating meat?' He followed with a pop at stand-up comedians acting as proxy experts on the virtues of taxation. Dougie, you had me at 'Oh for God's sake'.

He spent five minutes bemoaning people who didn't want children to learn the best of what we had to offer, to utilise the tiny window of opportunity we have to 'get civilisation to them', then someone said that teaching a canon of poems to children was elitist, and he nearly blew a vein. Dougie, I did not know you, but as of Monday, Amazon is lighter of stock to the tune of one of your badly hawked books.

I had an unexpected moment of nostalgia when I attended Ian Livingstone (the President of Eidos (think Tomb Raider)'s session; . When I was a lad he was the British face of Role Playing games and the Fighting Fantasy non-linear fiction books which stood in for a social life when I was a very young man. A small bubble of sentiment, long suspended under the sediment of years, broke free and bubbled to the surface. I mean, I wasn't weeping or anything, but it was touching. He was talking about the need for schools ot teach programming and code, not just more fucking powerpoints, to which I say AMEN, brother. When I was a kid I was programming my Commodore 64 in Machine Code. But I gave up because....well, it just wasn't something we did in school. Maybe I would have been sitting on  my enormous nerd private island driving a big nerdy billionaire's super yacht by now, if I'd stuck at it. DEAR READER I WOULDN'T CHANGE A THING I WOULD STILL LOVE YOU.

My crowd was so excited, they closed their eyes.
Wrapped up the day with my session; I think the room was entirely composed of people who read my blog, so all I have to say, naturally, is that I have rarely seen an audience composed of such natural wit, wisdom, balance of form and limb, symmetry of features, and grace. Comically, ironically, the IT was locked out by password problems, so I went a capella, and I thought 'Ah, it's just like school.' See, that's the problem that most IT zealots don't recognise: this stuff isn't snag free; we still need teachers for when the link goes down. I'm digitally literate all right; I speak fluent cock-up.And Bocce, of course.

I loved the session, and it was fantastic meeting everyone afterwards. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a craven Wormtongue, the whole Wellington experience was quite wonderful. The children were breathtakingly polite, warm and composed (thank you to Jaya for showing me around), the premises were Narnian and the whole Hydra-headed beast seemed to run like the engine of an Aston Martin. There aren't many festivals that could cope with losign the healdine acts (cheers, Mssrs Gove and Wilshaw) but this one made a fine fist of it.

Ah, there's too much good stuff to get down. Day two tomorrow. I may write something about it.



  1. Hi Tom!
    Is there anything about your interview with Charlie Taylor anywhere please?

  2. I really do enjoy reading your blog Sir. Thanks for writing it. That is all.


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