Students Take Centre Stage At Liberating Leaders Conference

Posted on 31st May 2016

On Wednesday 25 May, 275 delegates from independent and state schools gathered at Bedales for an event with a difference. Conferences on leadership in education are regular occurrences; however, leadership conferences that not only include students but give them centre stage are harder to find.

Hosted by Bedales in partnership with the Times Educational Supplement (TES), the conference sought to give current and aspiring school leaders the tools and knowledge to be creative in how they run a school and the confidence to maintain their individuality.

The subject was interrogated from many angles. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted, spoke of the need for maverick teachers with a hint of menace (more of which he suggested were to be found in the independent sector), whilst Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering at Oakland University, talked about her own journey from maths and science underachiever to creator of the world’s largest MOOC (Massive Online Open Course).

Danielle Harlan, founder and CEO at the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential, spoke movingly of the need for leaders to be empathetic and give others the license to lead, and Professor Bill Lucas of the University of Winchester explained the tenets of liberating expansive education. Delegates also heard from international education consultant Rob Walden on strategies for developing leadership and Lord Jim Knight, former Minister of State for Education and now chief education adviser to TES Global.

Importantly, delegates then heard voices from the educational coalface. Mike Fairclough, Headteacher at West Rise Junior School in East Sussex, enthralled those present with stories of making a neighbouring Bronze Age site the setting for schooling children from the local council estate. Headteacher of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, Geoff Barton then made an impassioned speech in which he spoke out against a state school inspection regime that he believed stifled the bold and maverick tendencies that Sir Michael had earlier extolled. Headmaster Keith Budge then told the story of how Bedales School had gone about introducing its own alternative to GCSEs.

Meanwhile, the many student participants had attended their own leadership workshops, and in the final session two each from Bedales and King Edward VI joined their teachers in responding to questions posted by delegates and received via Twitter.  Keith Budge concluded: “Speakers, teachers and students all took the time to tell me how inspiring they had found the day, and how involving students had put an entirely new slant on the subject of leadership. It is obvious when you think about it – schools should be 100% about their students, and to not include them in consideration of something as important as leadership is surely to miss a trick. We all know that young people will need leadership skills once they leave school, but if we also want genuinely creative and distinctive schools then we also need them to be leaders as well as students.”

Copies and films of speeches from the conference are available here.