What Sue learned at #EducationFest

There were so many interesting sessions on offer. I was interested in sessions relating to social changes and the mental health of young people.

Improving education? Try inspiration and aspiration. Headliner Richard Noble.

I was interested to see how very young minds are being targeted as future engineers through partnerships with teams such as Richard Noble’s Bloodhound SSC car. This team has always engaged schools in their enterprise and freely shared data about the technology being used in creating a car to attempt record breaking speeds. Richard Noble’s dry, slightly cynical but humorous presentation shed light on how the government and major engineering employers, having identified a shortage of engineers entering the profession, have recently become extremely generous by attaching themselves to this particular team’s work in schools. I was a delight to see a video played showing Mrs Poyda and Kennet students to see this in action. The unintended benefits of looking for support and locations worldwide, particular for the San communities of South Africa were inspiring.

Alpha Children wear Grey: Drugs, Brain Stimulation and & Genetic Engineering.

Andrew Sabisky attempted to create shock and alarm by suggesting we as teachers should promote selective reproduction by the very bright to create the top thinkers of the future and proposed using drugs for treatment of narcolepsy to improve the work rate of children in schools among other things. Clearly a bright person, his ideas were intended to alarm but his audience were unimpressed, he asked why no one had called him a Nazi yet as that was the usual reaction. What is genuinely alarming is that some of these ideas are being explored in countries such as Singapore where the government tried (and failed) to set up a dating agency to get their brightest and best to meet – and presumably to mate.

I attended two debates. One was about whether or not Prevent is turning teachers into spies. Debates work best when opposing views are aired and discussed. There were no opposing views to the question and plenty of examples of where this had clearly been taken to extremes in recent times (Terraced house =Terrorist house being one). What was interesting was the view of a Headteacher on how the programme was delivered and who the intended targets are. The second was called Mental Health ‘Timebomb’ in schools: are you mad? This was more interesting which had contributors suggest that looking for mental health issues created conditions and a range of specialist professionals to respond to them. Participants touched a few nerves by suggesting this meant there are circumstances where young people and their families can mistake the inability to manage the vicissitudes and difficulty of the experience of adolescence and growing up for mental illness. It was argued that this was creating a lack of resilience or mental toughness in young people. Other factors such as the pressures of social media were discussed. There was complete agreement on the paucity of provision for mental illness in young people and in the confusion young people were being missed/misdiagnosed with lifelong consequences.

It was a fascinating day. I was pleased to meet a former student who was inspired by her PE teachers to excel at sport. She looked at her circumstances and her aspiration to succeed in the state system and a struggling school and decided her progress as an individual would be held back if she stayed in it. She downloaded the application forms, applied and got a scholarship at Wellington College independently. She was taking charge of her own social mobility and a passion for sport. She is an exceptional young woman. This was the topic of the second headline session of the day presented by the Fair Education Alliance Why has social mobility Engine in the UK stalled and what can we do about it? You go girl.

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