Yesterday was the second annual Lead, Learn, Lancs conference at my school. It was the culmination of several months of hard work, and as the sole organiser of the event I couldn’t be prouder of how it went. I was absolutely buzzing all day and every person I spoke to, whether speaker, delegate or exhibitor, felt exactly the same way. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face even as I finally drifted off to sleep at about 1am.
It’s such a shame though that some people set out to deliberately strip the enjoyment that myself and others felt by criticising a lot of aspects of LLL, from holding it on a Saturday to the location and ticket price. Some of that criticism was levelled at Saturday CPD in general, but as the only conference tagged into it, it’s hard to not take it personally. I tried my best to ignore it last night and focus on the absolute barrage of tweets from people who’d wanted to attend, who were motivated and excited to put what they’d learned into practice and who were grateful for the chance to attend such an event so close to home, but the more I think about it, the more I want to address some of the points raised.
All of the points raised by critics are inter-related, and none of the issues – despite how they were being presented – are black and white. I don’t advocate regular attendance at Saturday CPD. In actual fact, I had this conversation four or five times throughout LLL yesterday! Saturdays are for family and relaxation, not for work. But here’s the thing – in fifteen or so years of teaching, the greatest and most powerful CPD I’ve had has been on a Saturday. That’s not by accident, either. Serving teachers who present at these Saturday events are the ones who are most able to share what they’re doing in the classrooms – what works, what doesn’t work, and why. It’s quite rare for these teachers to be released from their teaching duties in order to present, and in most cases the teachers themselves don’t want the time away from their students.
I’ve spent far too many INSET days listening to ‘experts’ talk us to death about outdated pedagogy, peddling the same presentations for many years at at a very significant cost to schools. More often than not these people haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for years either, and the messages they’re giving just don’t work with pupils. There are exceptions to this, and I find that these are either consultants who run sessions with students, or who have only very recently left teaching. Saturday CPD is, on the whole, a grassroots movement for teachers, by teachers. Nobody blinks an eye at giving up an evening for a Teachmeet, outside of directed time and unpaid, but apparently extending this to a Saturday is a whole other story. It shouldn’t be.
What I take from INSET days and courses that take place on weekdays is usually a few bits of paper that I’ll leave on my desk for a few months until I have a clear out and chuck it in the bin. What I take from Saturday CPD are practical tips and ideas that I go back an implement in my teaching, as well as a network of support and guidance from both those presenting and those attending.
Ideally, the only cost that teachers should be paying if they choose to attend CPD on a weekend is their time. In reality, and in my experience, free CPD just isn’t feasible. Last year LLL was a free event, and it backfired in a way, in that many who’d booked tickets simply didn’t show up. When speakers have travelled across the country at their own expense and for free, it’s not ideal to have only a small group of delegates for them to speak to.
LLL is not a profit-making exercise. I made a decision to charge £10 per ticket this year for one reason and one reason only: in the hope that people making an effort to buy a ticket would encourage more of them to actually show up. And it worked! I’ve been really clear all along that once expenses are paid out, anything leftover will go to the three charities that we fundraised for. Even with that in mind, I didn’t charge just so that I can make a bigger donation, either. Whilst I didn’t have to pay for a venue and I had some sponsorship to cover some of the expenses, I still had to cover travel expenses for some of the speakers. I had two keynote addresses and thirty workshops. I’d had 32 speakers booked. Most of those aren’t asking for travel expenses, and not a single one of them charged fees to speak.
But that’s not how it works during the week. I tried last year to arrange an event similar to LLL as an INSET day. I was going to have all of our staff and invite our feeder primary schools to send their staff. By the time I’d spoken to 5 or 6 speakers, the cost just for their fees was nearing £5000. Some speakers charge £500 for a half day, some will only book a full day at the cost of several thousand pounds, and I even know of one speaker, who still teaches part time, who charges £800 an hour. An hour! To run a conference on the scale that I do for LLL, I’d need a budget running into the tens of thousands. I’d then need to charge a considerable amount per ticket just to break even. Speakers who charge to speak during the week – and rightly so, if that’s their job – will often volunteer to do it for free on the weekend. Certainly that’s true for LLL speakers.
And in all fairness, if someone who wanted to attend the conference couldn’t afford £10 for a ticket, I’d invite them anyway.
Then there’s the location. A few weeks back someone asked me if I’d consider moving the conference to London. Last night I saw a tweet complaining that there’s nothing in Suffolk and therefore there’s no choice but to pay to travel to these kind of events, thus adding to the cost. I don’t disagree with that. In fact, I think it’s a problem. But it’s exactly why I started LLL. I spent far too many weekends and far too much money travelling to London, and to other places like Bristol and Gloucester, to attend quality CPD. I was tired of it, I didn’t see anything like it happening in the North West, so I got off my backside and did something about it. I wanted something to change, but instead of complaining about it, I did something to change the situation. There’s a lot of people around who can give you advice about running your own event, and it’s actually not that hard to put together. It’s time consuming, sure, but it’s not really that difficult.
Lastly was the argument that it’s virtually impossible for single parents to attend these events. It’s not, and I fully reject the idea that LLL is in any way going to discriminate in such a way. No, I don’t run free childcare. Not because I don’t want to, but to do so would significantly raise the cost of tickets and I don’t see that as a viable solution. Yesterday a delegate brought her child along with her because she didn’t have childcare. We made that work. I’m more than happy to speak to anybody who feels like the only barrier to their attendance at LLL is childcare, and to help sort something out.
What really upset me when I saw the criticism wasn’t anything that was aimed at me or at LLL in general. It was the tweets that criticised those who choose to attend Saturday CPD as if they are somehow letting the teaching profession down by doing so (incidentally, how many of those lobbing that criticism do school work outside of school hours?). How ridiculous! Nobody was forced to buy tickets and nobody was forced to attend. Those who did so chose to do it in order to learn, to network and to enjoy their Saturday. If that’s what people want to do on their weekend, then I’m happy to facilitate it. I don’t criticise those who choose to spend their time in a pub, at a football match, going shopping or doing any other activity that makes them happy. Frankly I’d much rather spend my time at an education conference than watching overpaid men run about kicking a ball. I’d rather spend my time with likeminded people who make a difference to children’s lives than fighting through crowds at a shopping centre. If you don’t want to attend a Saturday conference, that’s your prerogative. Don’t sit behind your keyboard and criticise those who do.
So thank you to those who came yesterday, who gave up their precious time away from family and their precious time off. I hope that you found LLL to be a valuable experience and that you’ve added to your networks a little more to continue with that learning throughout the year. Thank you to those speakers who volunteered their time and experience. Thank you for all of the tweets and messages of support. Thank you for your smiles of enjoyment, your laughter and your desire to learn.
It means so much more to me than I can possibly put into words here.
And now let’s look forward to #LLL18 – which will absolutely be a Saturday affair.