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  • Writer's pictureRuth Ashbee

“Why do you bang on about researchED all the time Ruth?”

If you’ve already been to a researchED conference, you’ll know that it’s not like other conferences.

ResearchED is on a Saturday. A Saturday! Everyone knows how hard teachers work, all the extra hours we have to put in just to get our normal, paid job done. Why the hell do teachers opt in, pay to go to an extra work thing, on a Saturday? These events consistently sell out. Teachers are planning their calendars and placating their partners so they can make it to the next one, and the next, and the next. What is going on?

The fact that researchED is on a Saturday is clearly a testament to how much teachers value it. But in fact it is also a key factor in its success, in it being many, many times better than nearly every other education conference in existence.* Because researchED is, in the words of its founder Tom Bennett, “a polite revolution”.

Teaching should be a job where if you are clever you can use your brains. It should be a profession that looks to research and intellectual discourse for guidance on the best way to do things. We are responsible for the education of children – how many different ways must this be said before people understand that this is a huge responsibility, and that there is a moral imperative to look outwards, beyond mere assumptions or conventions, and do our job as well as we possibly can.

For too long though, the job has been hegemonised by lazy, faulty thinking, by fads and trendy paradigms, by people just doing things because someone else told them about it, or because it sounded like a good idea. Bloom’s taxonomy. Brain gym. Discovery learning. VAK. The list goes on and on, and none of this stuff is any good to anyone except consultants who continue to rake it in from ill-informed CPD budget-holders and leaders who need to pretend to have something useful to say about lesson observations when they don’t know anything about the subject. Education, until very recently, was in a dark age where ostensible power and authority lent weight to ideas.

We are now in an early Enlightenment. People are questioning blind authority, and seeking to find out for themselves. It is not ok that there is a wealth of research on how people actually learn, and what the most effective methods to help people learn are, and yet very few of our ITT courses currently teach this research – although this will change under the proposed new ITT framework. It is not ok – but teachers are not taking this lying down – and this is where Saturdays come in. Saturdays belong to teachers. Not all teachers are free to come to a conference on a Saturday – the model is imperfect – but many are, and they don’t need permission from their school. Now there are many reasons why teachers might not get permission from their school to attend a conference. Most of the time these reasons are relatively reasonable (albeit equivocal), such as the cost of cover or the effect on behaviour of having a teacher out for the day. Occasionally there is a more contemptible motivation, where research  is construed as contrary to the ethics and values of the school, or the existence of informed staff who can think for themselves is seen as undesirable. If you think this is hyperbole, you are mistaken. But whatever reasons schools may have, they can’t stop you going on a Saturday. (Can they? I haven’t actually checked. We should probably check.) And so teachers are free, free to go, to learn, to question, to be empowered.

This context leads to several things. First of all, everyone who speaks at a researchED conference does so for free. Yes, that’s right. They give up the time, to plan the presentation, and to come on their Saturdays, to present, for no money. The reason they do this is that they can see what is happening. They can see the burgeoning movement, a movement of teachers who want to think for themselves and do a good job – and who know where to go to find out how. ResearchED presenters are tired of rubbish CPD, tired of consultants charging thousands of pounds for made-up nonsense. And these presenters are so, so good. At a typical researchED conference you can choose from around 40-50 presentations spread across 5,6 or 7 40-minute sessions. I’ve been to I think 7 researchEDs and I’ve seen stunning presentations on memory, modelling using a visualiser, behaviour, governance, turning a failing school around, Engelmann, reading, critical approaches to historiography, dual coding, engaging disaffected students with ambitious teaching, cognitive load theory, substantive and disciplinary knowledge, assessment, retrieval  practice, classics in state schools… there are always some subject specific sessions too, so important both for classroom teachers and SLT alike.

Most of the presenters at researchED are teachers. Actual, live teachers, with skin in the game. This is both refreshing and reassuring: these people share the same pressures and experiences as us, and they don’t have anything to sell. The only agenda here is “working out what works”.

The quality of the research and thinking that goes into the presentations at researchED is, in my view, second to none. I’ve come away understanding things I struggled with before, with insights into ways of doing things I hadn’t previously seen, and with concrete, useable things that have immeasurably improved my teaching. I’ve been able to take things back to my school to help develop teaching, curriculum, and pastoral matters. It’s impossible to underestimate the effect it’s had on my own and others’ practice.

Because everyone speaks for free, the cost of the tickets is low – between £20 – £30, covering lunch and site costs for the day. Again, this is democratising and empowering. Often schools will pay for a ticket if it’s that cheap and you won’t be out on a school day – but many teachers are funding it themselves because it’s so much more affordable than normal conferences, which are usually £100-£300.

If you look around you at researchED you will see a remarkable amount of warmth and laughter. There is actually a lot of hugging! But not in a weird way. What’s a better word for “networking”? Meeting people and making friends and professional contacts? Whatever. This happens loads at researchED and it’s incredibly valuable. Facilitated by Twitter, meeting people at a researchED can give you subject links, contacts for future projects, job opportunities and lifelong friendships. Everyone who goes to a researchED goes back for more. If you haven’t yet been to one: what are you waiting for? The polite revolution starts here!

*Some other excellent conferences do exist – most of them also on Saturdays

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