Scottish Learning Festival 2007

Started writing this on the train home to Dundee after a great couple of days at the Scottish Learning Festival at the SECC in Glasgow. Just getting around to publishing it this afternoon.

Some highlights of SLF for me were:

Michael Fullan’s keynote on the seven secrets of school improvement. I have always liked his work and the way he is able to draw on a wealth of experience from across the world, and in particular from his native Ontario, grounds his work in reality. The key message of his work is that sustainable improvement is not only possible but that there is a substantial evidence base that we can draw on. As an aside he suggested that our own Curriculum for Excellence is still a little bit woolly. It will be interesting to see over the coming months whether this analysis is correct or as I suspect we are just taking our time to get to the detail.

The effervescent Marie Dougan and Margo Williamson showing the links between Curriculum for Excellence and Glow with wonderful work from the children of St Fergus Primary in Dundee (coached brilliantly by my former colleague Margret MacPhail).

Stephen Heppell displayed his usual brilliance at the twilight keynote session on Wednesday. Taking us on a learning journey across the world, stopping every now and then to remind us of where we have come from and helping us to paint a picture of what the future might look like. We have been working with Stephen over the last year and he is a joy to spend time with full of positive energy, enthusiasm and creativity. He has the knack of putting everyone at ease whether they are young children, teachers, policy makers or politicians.

Stephen and I then spent some time at TeachMeet07. Ewan McIntosh (recently appointed as LTS National Adviser on New Technologies for Learning) was using a fruit machine web ap to select colleagues to do 7 minute presentations on whatever took their interest. A great event with over 150 teachers sharing and having a lot of fun in the process. Planned to stay for 15 minutes and ended up staying for an hour and a half before dashing off to a nice dinner.

Thursday morning started with a breakfast session led by Sergio della Salla a neuroscientist from Edinburgh University who was debunking some of the myths about brain learning. Great stuff in the battle against pseudo science. One of the best bits of debunking was around the ‘theory’ that if you breathe through your right nostril you can pump air into the right side of your brain to enhance your creativity. As Sergio correctly points our this theory seems to ignore the important role of the lungs. He also gave Brain Gym a good kicking (not to say that exercise and relaxation might be good for learning – just that the justification is nonsense from a neuroscientific point of view).

I then got caught up with planning for SLF 2008 and beyond for a couple of hours. This meant that I missed one of the Uk’s top curriculum thinkers Mick Waters from the QCA – luckily I can catch his whole presentation on the LTS Online Service.

Managed to spend some time at the local authority practice sharing area, had a quick scout round the exhibition, thanked as many of our great staff as I could then ran off to catch the train.

All in all a worthwhile event – I think. The challenge for LTS and the Scottish Government is to make it better: align it more closely with Curriculum for Excellence; develop further its international reach; invest further in practice showcasing and sharing (TeachMeet being one model worth extending); provide opportunities to allow the fringe to develop further …

Anyway I am glad it’s over for another year but can’t wait for SLF 08.

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  1. Hi Laurie.

    Another brilliant Festival! It was great to finally meet you in person.

    I am glad that you and Stephen made it to the TeachMeet.

    Best wishes,


  2. Stuart Robertson

    As overall project manager I am relieved it is over for the year but, like Laurie, really keen to get lots of views on how it could be improved next year. I have also been hugely impressed by the brilliant team of people who make it all happen.

    A lot of people have been asking me how to improve the reach of the festival and ensure that those teachers who cannot be there for one reason or another can get more benefit. So over to you. Any views?

  3. Alistair Carratt

    Attended one of the GLOW/CfE sesions at the Learning Festival and liked your comment that you wanted to see the Secondary Classroom more like the Primary Classroom. I must admit I thought CfE was going to do that for us but I’m not so sure now. We seem to be continuing down the subject specific curriculum route still. I would like to see “project afternoons” where teachers work cross curricular to link subjects in a project based setting with pupils learning through investigation and not worrying about which subject it is.

  4. I really enjoyed TeachMeet; I think it’s a great idea, and appreciated the opportunity to make a nanopresentation, although I was sorry some folks weren’t called because of time. I would love to hear Stephen Heppel-I read his blog and his passion and enthusiasm for everything-not least his sailingn and family- comes across so clearly . I liked Alistair’s comment above about cross curricular “project afternoons”-that seems a good way of effecting a transition between the primary and secondary, (subject based) approaches. I still think, however, the requirements of SQA exams will have a huge influence on curriculum architecture.