Monday, December 22, 2014

'Wellington College" Festival of Education? I think not.

I got an email from an organisation called the Sunday Times Festival of Education. It was an odd, circumspect email asking for a telephone call to discuss - well, I'm not sure what. I asked them what they were really after - turns out to be sponsorship. Now I've talked at hundreds of conferences all over the world but I've never been asked to sponsor one! They were under the mistaken impression that I was the CEO of Epic. a company I sold in 2005 (so don't attend if you think they know anything about research). Even then, we did nothing in schools.
Even odder was the fact that the sender didn’t really say what the whole shebang was about. It was all very vague, as if they couldn't really tell the truth, as if it were all slightly embarrassing. I replied, politely, pointing them in the right direction – away from me.
Google to rescue
Surely a sign of the ‘Times’ that a ‘Festival’ of education should be held in an English Public School - Wellington College. That was a bad start. I know Anthony Seldon well and don't really have much time for his mindfulness (mindless) nonsense nor The Wellington Academy who recently sacked the headmaster (who I also know) for a slight drop in GCSE Maths results. Seldon and co have a political agenda and that agenda is not mine.
Looking at the 2015 festival site, I saw that it’s heavily sponsored by public school associations: ISBA (Independent Schools Bursars Association), AGBIS (Supporting Governors Bodies of Independent Schools, GDST (Girls’ Day Schools Trust), HMC (Leading Independent Schools), ASCL the small private sector leaning ‘union’. This is not good. Sponsors get privileges - speaker nominations and slots. I know because that was what he was offering. They skew the agenda.
Now I’ve always seen a ‘Festival’ as a sort of democratic celebration of something good in life. I'm the Deputy Chair of a large Arts Festival in Brighton, and have had a decade of experience in being directly involved with something that I think is worthy and adds to the culture of my home town. But why celebrate a system where the 7% tail wags the dog? Scrape beneath the surface and you’ll find the usual suspects organising this tawdry affair. You can see exactly why Tristram Hunt has marched in step with Gove recommending that the private sector take pity on the poor state sector by handing down some baubles of expertise ( an old Seldon idea). I’m all for debate and discussion, and no fan of the status quo, but when a ‘Festival of Education’ is sponsored by a Murdoch paper and largely public school associations, held in a public school, hosted, organised and shaped by a minority with a strong political agenda, you need to probe a little deeper and ask if it really is a Festival or a subtle PR exercise.

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