Jay Davenport - Headteacher, Manor School

The general justification for taking 2 great songs and blending them is usually explained as: “People like mash ups because it’s a different way of hearing tracks they love”. Was EN21 the Edu-conference version of this?

The previous incarnation of Educating Northants at the University of Northampton two years earlier had already established an ideological USP for this non-organisation as being focussed on the local, grassroots issues that impact on us all.

The fact that it turned out to be such a successful event, tackling the local and national void in educational strategic planning, amidst the grandeur of the brand new UoN Riverside campus was perhaps as surprising as it was welcome.

Since then, momentum had been maintained through the successful #NEDTalks (again, who knew that CPD provided by local voices on a Friday night was what people wanted?) and an EN journal, leading into the planning for EN21.

However, between the 2 conferences the world had changed. Pre-covid we knew that people loved attending Edu-conferences, even if they are on the weekend; meeting up with the @’s that they may have only known through Twitter. But there were still restrictions in place and over the past year there was a sense of change coming.

So, under these circumstances, what could be done? How could we capture all that is great about educational conferences but make it accessible to all despite it being a weekend at the end of the most extraordinary term of our lifetimes?

What resulted was, to my mind, the perfect Edu-conference mash-up. A food themed feast of edu-geekery that began and ended with extraordinary (in different ways) musical interventions. Let me explain.

Mash Up #1: Mix of live panels and short, sharp pre-recorded content.

Creating engagement online is tough, especially after the amount of screen time we have had and the current potential over-saturation of the market over the past year. Added to this, the enforced boom of online content had shown everyone a different way of attending events. Technology no longer held any fear and the attraction of FREE and CPD in your pyjamas was overwhelming.

Even in these circumstances the balance of the format achieved at EN21 felt fresh and new. The panels that punctuated the day at the mealtimes of breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea provided the gift of a range of live ‘in the moment’ voices (see Mash Up #3), offering different perspectives across the core themes of the day: collaboration; what we’re proud of; and next steps.

In between these sessions were the pre-recorded video content where the genius was in the format of the 2-minute, 7 minute or 10 minute sessions released in two tranches, in between the panels. These short sharp hits of content had advantages at both ends, for presenters and consumers.

As a presenter it was a less daunting prospect to present your expertise or project than it would have been in a 30 – 60-minute slot. In the end, the result was that over 80 people contributed content from across the sector. Their voices could be heard, their work celebrated and connections made which are likely to lead to future collaboration.

As a consumer the format was perfect. Stories on the day quickly filtered through of people engaging from their bedroom in their pyjamas, before and after their kids swimming or post-run. You could stop, pause, replay, re-listen. In fact, all the things that the students have been telling us they like about our pre-recorded blended learning content at school.

You could also devour content on a theme or across the full range. The short timeframes meant you could commit wholeheartedly without feeling frustrated at the investment if the content wasn’t quite what was expected.

The you-tube / We Are In Beta links meant it was easy to navigate and the content would be present forever online. Those that missed the day, or couldn’t get to all they wanted to, could easily catch up or revisit when it was convenient over the next days, weeks and months. Drop in CPD is here….and it’s cool.

Mash Up #2: Stay local: Mix of educational big hitters and local voices

Often in a mash-up you may have 1 song you know well but get exposure to another you’ve never heard of, that piques your curiosity, to investigate further.

The Northants provenance of local voices was at the core of EN21. While EN19 had been about getting people and educational thinking into our county, EN21 was about getting the word out; shining a light on and celebrating the rich tapestry of educational thinking from Aynho to Oundle.

We are lucky in Northamptonshire to have educational big hitters working in and connected to our county. Whether it is curriculum, teaching or leadership, the expert voices of Christine Counsell, Kat Howard, Ben Newmark, Sam Strickland and Nimish Lad amongst others, who are often shaping the educational agenda at a National level, are legitimately connected to Northamptonshire.

However, if they were the draw, there was just as much delight for me in the discovery of talent that was new to me. Experts, doing brilliant things in their own schools and field, I hugely enjoyed presentations on gratitude by Natasha Barstow, silence by Claire Radd; sixth form leadership by Claire Green and retrieval practice by Katy McDonald, to name but a few.

Mash Up #3: Mix of lenses

All too often Edu-conference miss out on the range of lenses necessary to make it truly inclusive. It was important that #everyoneswelcome was more than just a hashtag. As described above, the format gave an opportunity for anyone and everyone connected with our sector in Northants to contribute and the panels shine a light on a wide range of voices. The breakfast panel looked at collaboration from cradle (EYFS) to career (UoN and beyond). At lunchtime, ‘what we’re proud of’ rightly highlighted the work and voices of students, TAs, parents, and charities and the afternoon tea session considered further student voice alongside, NCC and the newly formed Northamptonshire hub.

The real stars of the day were the students. The articulate and wise views of panellists Nefe and Kamron and the extraordinarily powerful performance of Silhouette youth Theatre, reminding us all why we do what we do.

If the objectives were to enable people to celebrate all that is good about education in Northamptonshire, and to connect and collaborate, sharing what they are doing and gaining ideas with likeminded others, then EN21 was a huge success. It has also changed the face and expectations of Edu-conferences. The conversation has started, and so many people are part of it. The next bit is up to you.

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