How often do teachers – especially senior teachers – groan inwardly when attending INSET when feeling patronised by an external “expert”?
How often do they wonder whether or not a carefully planned CPD course will make them expert in an area so far removed from their core interests that they will either gently slip into a coma during the presentation, or lose the will to live?
The Oxford Conference in Education is a genuine alternative to normal INSET. Even within the HMC programme of CPD events, it stands out as a truly remarkable event. Held every two years in an Oxford College – St John’s College is the preferred location at present - it provides a rare opportunity for teachers in the independent sector (and beyond) to reflect upon a range of issues far removed from the daily grind and consider the bigger educational picture. As the conference publicity material suggests, it is a ‘unique biennial event – an academic, cultural and creative retreat, designed to inspire teachers’.
The Oxford Conference in Education was founded many years ago to give teachers the opportunity to hear some of the most interesting thinkers and speakers of our time, as well as to meet, share ideas and be refreshed intellectually. Its founding purpose has been to assemble a range of speakers amongst the most insightful commentators of the present, politicians, educationalists, scientists, theologians, writers - people drawn from a wide range of professions - to stimulate, provoke, challenge and enthuse others. In recent years, the conference has been re-born in the heart of Oxford and it has considered issues from the future of technology in education to environmental issues to cultural challenges such as how to re-write a classic novel. Teaching has been considered as an act of friendship, as a profession of substance and as a singular privilege. What unites the speakers is that they have something to say about education, or about an issue that impacts upon education, which will bear examination by a group of able academic teachers who are interested in ideas, and are keen to discuss them further over dinner in an Oxford college, or in the bar later that evening.
The idea is to create a forum for teachers who are interested in the future of education to meet and discuss what seems important in the present and in the future, people who can then return refreshed to their respective schools, revitalised with ideas, reenergised for the term ahead. Over the years, this has been seen to impact on the independent sector in various ways, as ideas have been shared, speakers have been re-booked in other contexts and delegates have often been seen to rise rapidly through the ranks of the sector, as they make a difference in their respective roles. Unlike some conferences, attendance is not restricted to one group, such as Deputy Heads; it provides an opportunity for all those teachers who are passionate about education per se to meet and discuss matters, while enjoying life in an Oxford college.
The conference also has a particular role culturally and spiritually. Each occasion that it meets, there is a cultural event, with a poetry reading or a novelist reading sections of a new book. High quality, engaging entertainment of this kind has been provided by figures such as the poets Wendy Cope, Simon Armitage and Sophie Hannah, and journalists such as Simon Heffer. There is also a conference chaplain in attendance and there are optional services for those interested in using the conference partly as a form of spiritual retreat.
This coming April a range of engaging speakers is lined up to speak at the new venue for the conference, St John’s College. Among those involved are the following: the political economist Will Hutton, architectural expert Professor William Whyte, photographer Jimmy Nelson, political advisor Alastair Campbell, a panel of Heads (including John Claughton, Richard Pleming, Katy Ricks and Zoe Readhead), the geographer Professor Danny Dorling, the expert on dyslexia and children’s reading difficulties, Professor Maggie Snowling, the philosopher Marianne Talbot and politician and historian Dr Kwasi Kwarteng MP. There will also be an exhibition by the surrealist architectural painter, Philip Bouchard.
There will be a fertile mix of views and stimuli from right across the political, artistic, educational and philosophical spectrum. Rediscover the will to live in the world of CPD and come along in April!
To book places, please visit the HMC Professional Development website www.hmcpd.org.uk, or call the HMCPD office on 01858 462477.