Why I’m getting excited about this year’s SSAT National Conference – Tom Middlehurst

SSAT’s National Conference Director gives an update on the plans for 30 November-1 December in Manchester

Since the summer holidays, I have been getting gradually more excited about our upcoming conference on the theme of ‘Illuminating learning’. Speaking to our member headteachers and chief executives, the title has prompted a variety of responses – exactly what we hoped for!

Some heads are excited about the idea of shining a light on learning: really trying to get to grips with what’s happening in their classrooms and schools, and facing some difficult truths about practices and systems that have perhaps not always supported learning to its fullest. Others have reflected on the illuminating or enlightening power of education: the power of an individual teacher to change the course of an individual young human’s life. Both of these interpretations, and others, will be covered by our conference – and our exhibition partners are integral in helping us realise this.

Over the last four weeks, I have also begun briefing calls with our mainstage speakers, and what I’ve heard has been fascinating. Speaking to Phil Scraton, the principal author of the Hillsborough Inquiry, in early October, I was humbled to hear how important he felt it was to speak at our conference of school leaders. He told me he will focus first on the process of the inquiry, and draw explicit links between the methodology his team applied and how we might try and illuminate learning in schools; the second part of his speech will focus on why we need to create curious, inquisitive, critical young people to avoid a similar institutional cover-up in the future.

Our headline partners, humanutopia, will be asking challenging questions about how we understand, evaluate, measure, and change what happens in our schools. What learning really means. Graham Moore, humanutopia’s founder, is driven by a desire to illuminate so that we gain a deep grasp of what the journey through school feels like for a young person. In doing so, we as adults, decision makers and policy writers can improve this experience for all future children, regardless of their background, heritage or culture.

And CEO of the new Institute for Teaching, Matt Hood, set my mind racing with his discussion of how, in educational leadership, we have to make our ‘best bets’ about what works for curriculum and pedagogy. Any such decision is a classic economic cost/benefit analysis: by doing something, you’re actively not doing something else! That’s why our exhibitors are so important in our conference – your expertise helps school leaders make these high-stakes decisions.

That’s also why, for the first time this year, we’ve invited school business managers. They will have dedicated time with exhibitors, focused on how your products and services can help illuminate learning and innovate on an austerity budget.

I am also excited by our school-led workshops. These include sessions on building a culture of research engagement, tackling thorny issues such as marking and personalised CPD, rewriting the rule book and challenging assumed orthodoxies.

Over the next eight weeks, I’ll have personal briefing calls with our exhibitors, sponsors and partners. If you want to discuss the theme of the conference in more detail, please get in touch on nationalconference@ssatuk.co.uk.