I attended the annual FE National Conference: The Learning Revolution, on 26th March at the Thistle Hotel Heathrow, organised by Paul Tully of Newbubbles. Newbubbles' mission is to support further education (FE) and to promote the interests of all those that work in the sector. I thought I would take this opportunity to summarise the event in this article.

The conference was subtitled The art of teaching, what happened to imagination? It happened to be 'I love FE day' which I must admit, I hadn't heard of until the event. I'm not really sure who decided we should love FE today or what it was all about. This was one of those things that made me think there is just so much going on, and so much change in our sector that it's so difficult to keep up with it all. This year, we have a consultation taking place regarding the QCF (ending 17th June), changes to the Common Inspection Framework (CIF) and a new centre for Vocational Education Research. There's also cuts to funding, changes to apprenticeships, changes to qualifications and more. Oh, and of course we have a general election, which is bound to affect what happens in our sector. I wonder if we will ever have stability, or do we in fact thrive on the challenges the changes bring us?

The conference started with keynote speaker Paul Joyce (Senior Inspector for Ofsted) who talked about meeting the needs of learners, the future of education inspection and the revised CIF which will take effect from September. He said subjects will not be graded, but areas will, i.e. 16-19, apprenticeships etc. He stated qualifications should add value to a learner and prepare them for their future career prospects, as well as equip them with the skills employers are looking for. I don't think anyone would disagree with this, however, he took a hammering from some in the room who said that Ofsted stifle passionate teaching.

Prof Robert Winston gave an interesting talk entitled The skill of learning. He stated the more we repeat things, the more the connections between the neurons in the brain take place. He also argued nurture was more important than nature.

Prof Frank Coffield received a riotous applause for his speech entitled Resistance is Fertile. He talked about all the changes our sector has gone through, and how various bodies in the sector came and went. He mentioned cosmetic consultation, the tick box system and how we need more democracy. He, along with a group of others, is promoting Tutors' Voices (provisional name) to be the voice of democratic professionalism. It will be an independent professional association for all those in our sector. It would seek to influence policy amongst other things. Please e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to express your interest, it's free to join.

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Geoff Petty felt the present role of leadership in FE is broken in his speech The leaders are teachers revolution.

Prof Susan Wallace asked what happened to imagination? She stated imagination is more important than knowledge, as knowledge is finite.

Trevor Gordon spoke about Equality, integrity and the management of teaching. He felt teachers' creativity is being stifled, and he feels that professionalising the sector will stifle passion.

The last keynote speech was from David Corke of the AOC who was concerned with the 24% cut to the adult skills budget, as we all are.
A panel discussion took place, with questions from the delegates. At one point Prof Robert Winston and Prof Frank Coffield had a real public disagreement and I secretly hoped this was being filmed to go on YouTube.

Dr John Lea summarised the speeches by stating that FE gives opportunities to people they can't get elsewhere. He said we need to defend our sector by lobbying, showing our passion and having a strong evidence base for what we are saying. Perhaps the new association Tutors' Voices will be able to achieve this.

The afternoon offered the opportunity for delegates to attend various workshops by some of the keynote speakers, and to learn more about showcasing best practice from other speakers. These included: Bradley Lightbody, Isabella Wallace, Bob Craig, Dr Abi Lucas, Tony Davis, Andy Green and Sally Challis-Manning.

From talking to other delegates and the speakers, I felt the key theme coming through from the day was passion. However, it's the passion to be able to do our jobs without interference and stifling from bodies which constantly seem to force change upon us. I feel we are a resilient lot in our sector, and we are very capable of dealing with change and turning it into something positive, for the benefit of the learners and our own sanity.

Ann Gravells is an author, creator of teacher training resources and an education consultant - she can be contacted via her website: www.anngravells.co.uk

Ann Gravells Newsroom StrapThe next article from Ann Gravells will be: Standardising practice

You can download the event materials from the various speakers by clicking here.

Next year's FE National Conference will again be organised by Paul Tully of Newbubbles. It will be on Friday 25th March 2016, at the Thistle Hotel, Heathrow and is titled 'The Great Assessment Debate'.

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