On Saturday 11th November I was lucky enough to be at the first ever #BrewEd at The Greystones Pub in Sheffield. Beer, good conversation, brilliant people and proper debate – I might be an unusual sort but for me it added up to the most enjoyable day out I’ve had in months. I’d like to give people who weren’t there a flavour of what the day was like. Perhaps you’re interested in planning a similar event yourself and our day might provide you with a template, or maybe you just wondered what a bunch of teachers could find so interesting about a day in the pub together – either way, do read on.
BrewEd was born out of a twitter chat between myself, co-organiser Daryn Simon and a few others back in June. I know that because I’ve just spent a while trawling all the way back through my timeline to find the original conversation. From a celebration of the joys of Brewdog’s many fine products, to a suggested teachmeet on a beer cruise to Calais to a whole new model for CPD, the journey took just a few tweets and the legend was born.
Saturday was a success because of the brilliant people who came along to take part; not just those who presented or appeared on our panel although they were without exception fantastic, but also the people who just came along to enjoy the day but ended up as much a part of it as anyone else.
I have organised a few events before, including much larger conferences at my school, Larkrise Primary in Oxford, but BrewEd was such a different ting for me that I slept rather fitfully on Friday night wondering if anyone would actually come along.
I needn’t have worried – even before the doors officially opened at ten a.m. participants were turning up, buying their first drinks and settling down to get to know each other. By ten thirty, when the event was due to start in earnest, our cosy venue – the back room of a pub which usually plays host to gigs and family get togethers – was full up with teachers from all sectors of education from EYFS and Primary to secondary, tertiary and ITT al raring to go.
Our first speaker was the brilliant Sinead Gaffney (@shinpad1), Sinead is deputy head at a primary locally and is a terrific speaker – always funny, self-deprecating and full of insight. I’d asked her to reflect on teachers relationships with teaching and she did so brilliantly, helping us to consider how our relationships with our profession changes as we move through our careers. She touched a lot of important issues along the way but I think my real take home was the importance of us developing a shared vision of professionalism. Sinead told us how, as a young and inexperienced NQT, her first class had chewed her up and spat her out by registration at 9:00a.m. each day. Her head teacher had taken responsibility to support her and rebuild her confidence as she went along. Thank heavens for great, people centred leaders. It’s not just NQT’s who need support, we all do from time to time, as a proud profession we need to be finding ways to share our vision and to support each other to make teaching the best it can be. Not just for colleagues in great supportive schools but for all of us.
Sinead was a tough act to follow but Nick Marshall (@Nick5307) did a spectacular job getting us to focus on the question of ‘who’s education is it anyway?’. As an ex-secondary head, and as a PhD student at Sheffield Hallam, Nick has been appalled by the level of gaming that has built up in the system until it passes unchallenged. Nick shared some extremely concerning data and helped us to understand what has driven this and what effect it has had. I was saddened to hear of schools offering gendered curricula to pupils with boys shepherded towards vocational training in building trades and girls encouraged to look at hairdressing and the caring professions. Nick helped me see that the move to ‘paper thin’ qualifications which benefit schools and colleges is actively harmful to pupils. In particular I really took home a new understanding that the bottleneck isn’t young people getting into tertiary education but children getting into post sixteen education. The vast majority of young people who cointinue in academic education post sixteen will continue to college whereas the vast majority who are siphoned off to ‘paper thin’ qualifications will go no further. There’s no point in blaming schools or school leaders who feel forced into these limiting strategies, instead we need to be proactive and find ways to insist that all young people are deserving of equal opportunities.
Our final speaker of the morning session was Secondary teacher Jean-Louis Dutaut (@dutaut), maybe best known as one of the ‘Flip the System’ team. The book will be published next month and has chapters from a real who’s who of English education from Alison Peacock of the chartered college of teaching to David Weston of the Teacher Development Trust, to Andy Hargreaves and many many more. Jean Louis led us to consider how teachers experience todays education world with the word ‘fractured’ coming to have relevance at many levels. Jean Louis told us how the book had come about – from his, and co editor Lucy Rycroft-Smith’s, negative experience of working in a school in free-fall to a chance encounter with Jelmer Evers – author of the original, Dutch, Flip the System, to be invited to create a British version and the two year journey it has taken to bring that to fruition. An absolutely key message here was that teachers are most effective when they have agency in their work but this cannot be tokenistic – what the book proposes is a radical change that puts those that work most closely with children and young people, the teachers themselves, at the top of the tree and gives others in the hierarchy, from managers to politicians, the responsibility to support them. Jean Louis invited us to imagine what might be different if the secretary of state for education awoke each morning to ask herself – what can I do to support teachers today? ‘Flip the System’ will be published by Routledge next month and I for one will be pre-ordering to find out what all the contributors have to say – Jean Louis let us in on one fascinating secret, he told us that on all fundamental matters he found that his contributors agreed. The problem was that they didn’t know that they agreed with each other and found it hard to acknowledge, his job became one of convincing his contributors to engage critically with each other’s thinking and accept that they were not in conflict – a message for out times!
Jean Louis Dutaut is a terrific teacher. Like all our morning speakers he ensured that his presentation was engaging to the diverse audience of teachers of many pedagogical persuasions and sectors, and like all of them he made sure that he left as much time for debate as for his input but he had to go one further. As his session went on the staff from the pub started bringing in peoples meals so the powerful discussions got progressively more busy with interruptions of ‘steak and ale pie and chips?’, ‘Fish finger sandwich?’ Jean Louis didn’t miss a beat and it’s testament to his skills that he didn’t lose his audience either.
After lunch we were treated to a real one off as Chris Dyson, head teacher at Parklands Primary in Leeds (@chrisdysonHT) interviewed Ros Wilson famed for many things but perhaps most for her forthright storytelling and the invention of the ‘Big Write’. Ros (@rosBIGWRITING) was accompanied by her faithful companion Buffy the Vampire Killer who sat on stage gazing at her mistress (and her mistress’ plate of chips) with love and devotion. Ros is one of those people who can turn every adventure into an epic. She makes an audience laugh with such ease that her skill might pass unnoticed. There’s a steely determination under the laughter and the character she plays that occasionally gleams through however. Having had a deeply unpleasant experience of schooling herself, Ros has spent her career ding everything she can to ensure the pupils she taught, and latterly the pupils of teachers she has trained, get a better deal. In a profession where, sometimes, a new initiative or a new book seem to get all the attention, it is vitally refreshing to hear the voices of people who have been ‘at it’ for a while longer. Listening to Ros made me reflect on how far the profession has come, and how much we’ve lost along the way.
Next up was the legendary BrewEd PubQuiz. Five rounds of elliptically edu connected games and puzzles. We had a ‘subject knowledge’ round, a picture round, a movie round, a literature round and a music round. It was great to see colleagues mixing together across ages, stages and career paths. My wife, recently retired from Primary teaching due to ill health, was on a team with a teacher trainer, a schools improvement advisor, and a pair of head teachers. They won by the way.
Last up was our ‘superhero panel’ featuring Ros Wilson, Sam Twiselton of Sheffield Hallam (@samtwiselton), Jean Louis Dutaut and Simon Kidwell, head teacher of Hartford Manor near Chester. As well as the superheroes on the panel our participants were fully involved not just suggesting the questions but joining in with the answers as well. Questions ranged from ‘What would you do if you woke p and found you were Secretary of State for education?’ to ‘Which subject would you drop from the National Curriculum?’ to ‘Should teachers be asked to take responsibility for children and young people’s mental health’, ‘To if you were given £50,000 for your school and you had to spend it by the end of the week, what would you do?’ From start to finish the panel was a real joy – we thought hard, laughed hard and really delved into some hard ideas.
After that it was time to head off – the pub had a gig to set up for and it was time for us to pack up and get out. A good few of us made it to the Sheffield Tap down by the station where the conversations carried on into the evening.
Lots of the conversations about #BrewEd prior to the event and following on from it have majored on the beer. That’s fine – as I said at the start of this piece, the idea did originally arise from a conversation about beer – however for me, and I think for Daryn too, there’s another, and much more serious, aspect to what we hope to achieve. So much debate about education, especially on twitter, is framed in divisive and polarising language. We think that if people get together in person, to debate face to face, in a genuine social setting such as a pub or a restaurant, there’s a real chance they’ll see past the character limited positions and perceive each other as real people. And I think, and perhaps Daryn does too, that having had these real life, face to face conversations, perhaps with a pint in hand, they might be a little more able to see where they agree and what they have in common. For me the pub is the broadest church – we are all welcome in the pub – and BrewEd hopes to be an agent to find commonality in the teaching profession; across sectors, subjects, age groups, and pedagogical groupings. We want to see any BrewEds that come along promoting a similar philosophy of robust debate presented in respectful and congenial terms. Yes, we often disagree with each other. Yes, we can do that with good manners and good grace and without casting aspersions on each other’s intelligence or good faith. I don’t think that’s idealistic, I think it’s good sense and I think it’s one way forward to heal some of the divisions within our profession. Yes, I do genuinely like beer but I’m afraid it’s professional unity that I’m prepared to spend three hours driving on the M1 for!
So, in conclusion, here are my ten commandments for a real #BrewEd. We haven’t trademarked the name, we don’t stand to make any money from it (and we very much hope yo wont try to either) so really you can do what you like but here, in no particular order, are the ideas that will help #BrewEd to do it’s beery, magical stuff.
1. Thou shalt be diverse – bring together people from all sectors and persuasions in peace and beeriness.
2. Thou shalt debate – presentations are great but it’s conversation that brings us together. If it’s about anything, #BrewEd is about debate.
3. Thou shalt talk about ideas not ‘tips for teaching’ – some CPD gives us ideas for what we could try on Monday morning, BrewEd gives us ideas for how we can transform our practice and profession.
4. Thou shalt have a bloody good quiz – mix the people up, get them into teams, let them take part in a shared endeavour.
5. Thou shalt have beer – or gin, or wine, or tea and coffee if you really must but make sure it tastes good and that being there is as good or better an option as being somewhere else.
6. Thou shalt not let anything be too long – we have shortish attention spans. Half an hour is fine, and, while we’re at it, build in toilet breaks – you’ll need them.
7. No sponsorship and no goody bags – it’s by the people, for the people, let the business people in and they’ll want on stage branding, and a chance to present, and a pound of your flesh.
8. Keep it fun and, if possible, keep it funny – no topic is off limits ut for heaven’s sake don’t bore people or you’ll kill #BrewEd dead.
9. Struggling for another commandment here.
10. That’s it (unless you’ve got another one Daryn…)