I would like to share with you my thoughts on Blackpool’s first #ResearchEd Conference, more of these conferences to come I hope.

My friend Carolyn O’Connor and I arrived promptly by 9 am and were greeted by some incredibly polite and helpful students from St Mary’s Academy. They are a credit to their school and Stephen Tierney as Executive Head and Simon Eccles as head teacher should be very proud of their students.

After signing in we moved down to the hall for refreshments then stopped and chatted to a number of people including in no particular order, Stephen Tierney, Simon Cox, Tom Sherrington, Phil Naylor , Jill Berry and Tom Bennett who is of course the person responsible for these conferences. I then met Raj Unsworth for the first time. This lady is an absolute treasure and I’m so pleased I have finally met her. The next person I met was Vivienne Porritt from the #WomenEd movement I was determined to say hello to her when I saw her. I haven’t had anything much to do with the #WomenEd movement simply because I’ve been too busy with other projects but their campaigns have been so powerful that they have crept into my unconscious without my realising. I am referring to the 10% braver movement. I was honoured to be asked to join the panel for the delegates questions after lunch on Saturday but I was also incredibly nervous. This level of nerves is quite unprecedented for me. I usually have a healthy mix of fear, excitement and adrenalin going on, but this time I was actually quite scared. I could almost hear Vivienne’s voice urging me to be 10% braver so I decided I would do it. So, a quick thanks to the #WomenEd movement for spurring me on!

On with the conference. First up was Baroness Estelle Morris who spoke very eloquently about research and developing a schools led system. She reminded us that teachers need organisations like researchED to keep education moving forward. This lady set the tone for the day and had me thinking hard and it wasn’t even 10 am.

My first session was Tom Bennett’s who talked to us about the benefits of a positive culture in schools. The way Tom tells it, it isn’t hard to come to the realisation that the culture should be believed in by everyone for it to be most effective. He showed us a quote from Dylan William “Nothing works everywhere, everything works somewhere”. I totally agree with this statement and it applies equally in SEND teaching. Tom went on to talk about design, build and maintain your culture and embed it with the staff first before the students. Tom’s was a powerful session and valuable to me in my special school setting.

Next up was Carl Hendrick and Robin MacPherson. The main thrust of their presentation was in three parts. Who needs evidence? What is to be done? What does it look like in the classroom? They also talked about how education research is often not accessible to teachers. They spoke about how fads can often overtake education simply because teachers don’t have the time or the access to engage with the research. They gave us a list of  books which would help to bridge that gap.


Carl and Robin talked about how research should focus on improving the student. They also talked about the value of feedback on the students’ work. They informed us that it should be more work for the recipient than for the donor. These two gave me lots to think about during their session.

I’ve talked about Vivienne already and it was obvious that I would visit her session to find out just what I’m missing with #WomenEd. Now I know what its all about I’m converted! I’ll be following the progress of this movement  from now on. Vivienne told us the history of how they started and what they do now to help women to achieve their best. I was unaware of all this happening around me I’m ashamed to say. If like me, you have missed it all check out @WomenEd and see what its all about. It isn’t about blaming men, its about helping women to be 10% braver, not accept things without question and to encourage women to challenge things that aren’t right. I was very impressed and also horrified with some of the things I learnt.


After lunch it was the Panel question time. This was the part of the day that had been preying on my mind the most. This was the part that had me thinking that I must be 10% braver. I’m proud of myself for doing this, I wasn’t the best ever panellist but I did it and I spoke about SEND in a small way. My fellow panellists were Vivienne Porritt, Craig Barton, David Weston and Tom Sherrington. We had an expert chair with Laura McInerney who set me at ease right from the offset. We covered a lot of ground in the 30 minute time slot including the research that has had the most impact on us. I spoke of Daisy Christodoulou’s book ‘The Seven Myths about Education’ which I found to be an illuminating read. There was also the best app or technology for research, answers included Complete Maths, MS Office Training Suite and in particular One Note. Other questions included how to encourage independent learning and the answers involved building confidence and scaffolding the learning. A further question was how to spread research to schools where teachers aren’t on twitter. I didn’t have chance to answer this question but I think research could be spread through the teaching schools. I know from my own teaching school that there are very few teachers on twitter. Those that are work hard to spread knowledge. If one teacher from every strategic partner school took research back to their schools and fed it to their local schools that would be a fast and efficient way of covering many teachers in many schools. Answers from the panel included spread word by email or journal or by having research champions. Panel completed and on with the afternoon session.

My session was next and I talked about the research conducted by the children in my school. Our Key stage 5 students won the Speaker’s Prize for their research around Blackpool hospital and GP Surgeries and changed the way Blackpool views young people with additional needs. They went off to Westminster to receive their prize which was a challenge in itself. We then had a 15 minute interactive session where some wonderful delegates tried life as a person with physical challenges by wearing arm splints and blindfolds and special glasses to simulate physical challenges faced by our children every day. Thank you to all those who attended and took part. Many thanks also to Carolyn who helped me with my presentation and the interactive activities. This lady is so kind and I have no idea what I’d do without her help.

My last session was Stephen Tierney’s presentation. If ever you have a chance to sit in on one of Stephen’s talks grasp it with both hands. He is a brilliant orator and puts his message across in such a compelling way I’m sure he could convince me that the Earth was flat if he wanted to. Stephen spoke about Evidence + Experience = Wisdom. The main thrust of Stephen’s message was to choose your research wisely and check the source of it. Not all research is valid and you should be looking at well known researchers.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at #rEDBlackpool and if I have one regret it is that I didn’t get to see Laura McInerney’s session. I met her in the corridor in between sessions and spoke to her about this. As we chatted I told  her that I think we need to do a lot of work around teacher workload. We discussed emails after hours and I said that in my opinion we’re playing around the edges with that one and we need a major shift in thinking to improve things. Laura totally disagreed and this was the some of the focus of her session so I really do regret not being able to make her presentation. Laura told me to download @TeacherTapp and get involved with the research, so I will and I recommend it to anyone reading this.

By now it was 3 45pm and Carolyn and I were totally exhausted. We decided to skip the final goodbye and be on our way. What a day, I’m so pleased we went as we took so much from our voluntary Saturday CPD. Thanks Tom Bennett for bringing ResearchEd to Blackpool. Please bring it back next year.

I haven’t done justice to any of the sessions I visited, I just wanted to give a brief nod of appreciation to all those who gave their time to help me to improve my work. Thanks everyone, and thanks to staff and pupils at St Mary’s Academy for a great day of learning, delicious croissants and a tasty lunch!