When Should Education Events Be Held?

November 8, 2014


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.



  1. I think you are right that most schools would not release a teacher from class for both days, or even one day in many cases and having it on a Friday and Saturday was, I felt, a bit of a best of both worlds allowing those who are not allowed any days off to go on Saturday and those who wish to only go in work time to go on Friday. it has always fallen at a bad time for me anyway so much as I always want to attend I have never made it along unfortunately. Although not class based anymore and working in an edu company I would not be allowed to go on Thursday or Friday as it would not fit with my work remit – other staff might be going from other departments maybe. Normally I would attend on a Saturday if possible. But as a new mum I wonder if the amount going on Saturdays of teachers would be weighted towards those with older children or mostly men? No idea just wondering. As a working mum I feel I really cannot go to things on Saturdays anymore whereas I always committed my own time to attending and organising teachmeets and conferences before having a baby.
    I have not paid attention before on a Saturday but now wonder how any working mums do it! Would be interested in knowing from the petition if possible but expect it is too late to find out if there are issues beyond just being WILLING to give up Saturday. I am willing just not able! My husband who is full time dad needs the time off just like I need weekends with my baby to counteract the working week stress!

  2. I know of no teacher in my school who works less than a day at the weekend. Some of us have children. So no I would not be prepared to use my Saturday. A day during the holidays is much more convenient.

  3. I claim to speak for nobody but myself here but I won’t – as a point of principle – attend anything on a ‘school night.’ I’ll either be busy, knackered from a proper day’s work of if I’m in the fortunate position to have little to do of an evening, I’ll enjoy that rare opportunity to spend time with non-teachers and/or have an early night to be fully energised for the challenges of the next day.

  4. This week I was able to go to an afternoon event at the Policy Exchange on teaching character. I had a ‘free afternoon’ and so was kindly allowed to go and it was interesting.
    I arrived 20 minutes early and as I took some A level essay marking with me I got it out. I then realised how odd and out of place I looked getting it out. The majority of those attending seemed very distant from the front line of teaching, much too important to have marking. I think you are right to be concerned that events that shape education policy should have so few front line teachers in attendance.

  5. I have attended many subject weekends – organized by my subject association, and I hope to attend at least one again this year. This is at my own expense, may I add. I have also attended evening Teach Meets etc. They are both very useful.
    The Festival of Education is something I’ve wanted to attend, but it does not feel like value for money when you miss a day because it is held on a weekday when you cannot get time out of school. I think last year all the interesting things were scheduled for Friday. The SSAT used to do something similar, but at least one of the days was a weekend and the CPD was tangible and recognizable to the powers-that-be at school.
    On the past two occasions when I was aware of this event (it does not seem to be readily targeted at practising teachers in the state sector) I actually had either a school commitment or another conference to attend on the Saturday. This year I was determined to go, but alas it is not to be!
    My school funds one CPD day that has to be justified in terms of benefits to the school. It is quite a benign regime and would allow more time if there was a fully justifiable reason. Occasionally, something extra could be negotiated, but two days off during the week, is quite untenable. Even if the school would allow it, do I really want to waste precious teaching time. Of course, it is in summer term, when most exam classes have left, with the exception of the Lower Sixth who return to start their A2 courses. But, like the majority of full time teachers who work in state schools, I would not be afforded the time off. It would generate at least £300 in cover costs to the school.
    I think this just goes to prove that these aren’t really aimed at working teachers. In fact, it confirms my suspicion that these events are for the cultured twitterati, the non-teaching blogosphere, the chattering classes and the Westminsterites. It is for those who like to write about education, but have removed themselves from the classroom at the earliest opportunity, if, indeed, they were ever there at all.
    After all, in the current education system, the teachers don’t count at all!
    It’s ironic that they are marketing themselves as the Educational Hay-on-the-Wye Festival, because teachers can actually get to the Hay’s Festival since it covers a weekend, and usually half-term in many areas.
    Andrew, book up for the real Hay-on-the Wye festival and let’s get a teaching contingent there! I’m sure they will accommodate us.

  6. The very.notion that teacher won’t give up their Saturdays is ridiculous: http://wp.me/p2z9Lp-i5 http://wp.me/p2z9Lp-dU and http://wp.me/p2z9Lp-cu are write ups of three Saturday events I’ve been to recently that were packed out with teachers, I think you were at two, so I’m certainly with you on this.

  7. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  8. I think events during weekdays *all the time* is not good but when I had children I did consistently choose for them rather than a weekend event, so all in the weekend not good either. Furthermore I think SLT and society should be aware that CPD is *part of* the teaching job, and hence should give the opportunity to attend some of the events during weekdays. It’s part of taking the profession seriously. This also means accepting that students’ worlds won’t collapse when they miss a lesson, if managed and organized correctly.

  9. I gave up 8 and a half hours yesterday, Saturday 8th November, and will do the same next Saturday. This was the only way I felt I could encourage and support a parent to attend a Cygnet Parenting Workshop. Her child has a diagnosis of autism and the family are still struggling to use the patchy and uncoordinated interventions of the NHS and educational ASD team. I volunteered because I believe it’s only through schools and families having such opportunities to learn together that children, with special needs, will be understood and have a chance to reach their full potential. This means i have had an amazing CPD experience, county have saved money (NHS CAHMs budget), no supply cover was needed and my relationship with this family are strengthened.

  10. The short answer to the question ‘would people give up their Saturdays?’ is ResearchED. I did my Masters while teaching on Saturdays. There are few things so important I’m willing to request time off during the week – it’s usually too much trouble for me and for everyone else. I’d always rather go to these things on a Saturday.

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