I had a bit of a disappointment yesterday, my personal highlight of the education event calendar, the Sunday Times Festival of Education at Wellington College (above), will be on a Thursday and Friday next year. While I might be able to get some time off work for the Friday, that is not certain, and what is certain is that the Thursday is completely impractical. If you are familiar with the event, it is on a scale far beyond any of the other events I go to. The number of speakers, the amount of variety and the two day length puts it on a level above anything else. It’s also a place where I first met so many of the bloggers who are now good friends. The event is expensive (it is very good value for money, but it is still a lot if paid by an individual not a school or company), down south, and at an independent school where many teachers work on Saturdays anyway. Perhaps it is inevitable that teachers (and others) who find it difficult to take time off work are not the first priority when it comes to organising it. It seems unlikely it could ever function without the sponsorship, exhibitors, attendees who work in education while not teaching significant timetables (if at all) or, for that matter, schools who send all staff as INSET. However, as somebody who went there as a teacher, and spent the majority of their time there with other teachers and listening to other teachers speak, it does feel like a real loss.
This alone wouldn’t have led to a blog if some kind soul (or agent provocateur) hadn’t made the organisers aware of my discontent and the point came up that teachers won’t give up their Saturdays. Firstly, while I’m not expecting anything to change, I would be grateful if anyone who would happily give up their Saturday, for something as good as the Wellington Festival, did let the world know. There is a petition here that you can sign using Twitter of Facebook. I’m not planning to beat the organisers around the head with it, even if it does get lots of names, because ultimately it is their decision and their priorities that count, but they should know if lots of people feel this way. Secondly, I did want to address the claim that teachers won’t give up Saturdays more generally, as I’ve heard it made in cases that are far less understandable than this.
The argument goes that teachers value their weekends greatly. This is true. They also try to avoid taking work home with them at weekends. This is also true as long as the emphasis is on “try”; I doubt many full-time teachers manage it. Therefore, they won’t do anything education-related at weekend, and would prefer to do it during the week instead of being in school. This is far less true. If you teach classes you often want to minimise your time away from them for their sake. I kept returning to work, on and off, during a family bereavement because I simply couldn’t let an exam class go without me. In fact, if you don’t feel that way it’s often time to leave. I left one school not long after I realised that jury service was more fulfilling than teaching there. Additionally, there are limits to what time away you can get, even if it is classed as CPD. I cannot imagine asking for two days off in any week in any school, and one day can be a bit hit and miss. I have in the past gone years without going on any kind of course. It’s often about power and influence, and only those with lots of one or the other, or both, get away from work in the week. Any event that finds teachers can attend in the week is not getting the frontline, they are getting managers at best, and consultants and other non-teachers at worst.
Perhaps this is often the issue. There are too many groups whose main contact with the teaching profession is with managers and consultants, not those with a full teaching load. Which is why we should consider what the exceptions can show us. I’ve seen or heard the people behind both ResearchED and the La Salle Maths Conference, say they have been told that they will have problems attracting teachers to events on Saturdays. This has repeatedly been shown to be wrong. The ResearchED conference on a Saturday in September attracted over 700 people with hundreds more left on the waiting list. La Salle Maths had something like 500 at their September event (which covered one subject and was in Kettering) and is expecting 800 at their next. Both events have seemed to be overwhelmingly full of teachers. If you build it, they will come. It just takes a willingness to try. I’d also love to see what happens if people try organising events in the school holidays. Perhaps it won’t work, perhaps people don’t want to think of work, but if I can get 30 bloggers to meet up for a drink and a curry in the holidays and talk about education, I can’t imagine that the holidays are a complete write-off.
The more serious side to this is when groups who claim to represent the opinions of teachers hold their events during the working week. Subject associations that hold their AGMs or main conferences on a weekday should be utterly ignored in policy-making. They simply don’t speak for teachers and sometimes (I speak here as a maths teacher) it is very obvious how out of touch they are. And, I’m sure I mentioned this before, I lost all interest in the idea of a (Royal) College of Teaching when an event to mark the start of the process of launching one took place on a weekday and I saw Twitter fill with comments from (and about) consultants, trade union leaders and a handful of senior managers. Teachers are people who work in the week to quite a tight timetable. This should be the first fact anyone considers when doing anything that is intended to engage teachers.