BELMAS Annual Conference 2012: thought-provoking -- and action-packed as well.
This year's annual conference, held in the grand surroundings of the Midland Hotel in Manchester, combined the usual high-quality papers and keynote addresses with rather more action than usual.
Delegates were evacuated from the hotel, along with three wedding parties, after a small fire broke out on the fifth floor on the Saturday lunchtime. A neat bit of rescheduling saw the next session hurriedly shifted to a nearby conference centre and repeated at 8.30am for the benefit of those who'd missed it.
The unexpected move outside the hotel became an extra highlight for many delegates as they found themselves mingling with fans from a nearby comic book convention, most of whom were dressed up in extraordinary costumes as characters from Star Wars and less well-known books, cartoons and films.
If anything, these dramatic events only added to the event for many participants. "I think everyone's had a good time and it's all gone very smoothly," said Dr Colin Russell, BELMAS chair.
The mood for the weekend was set with a very stimulating presentation from Professor Keri Facer, who discussed the potentially huge upheaval which is likely to be coming as a result of climate change and transforming economies - and the way in which education may itself need to be reshaped. "Schools should recognise their power," she said. "If they weren't powerful, ministers of education wouldn't mess around with them so much."
Another keynote speech, by Professor Jorunn Møller, discussed the way in which Norwegian teachers and principals have been reacting to educational reform and its demands for more pupil assessment.
BELMAS members also got to hear the initial findings from the structural reform projects currently being funded by the association. These included such diverse matters as the reactions of unions to academisation, the identity of successful Free School sponsors, who controls the ethos of academy schools, and developments in a failing school after it was taken over by a local consortium. There will be further presentations from these pieces of research at a special BELMAS Conversation event in October.
As usual, there was much of interest both from UK and international research. Professor Chris James presented the findings of large-scale research into governing bodies, examining their motivation and the way in which their efficiency depends on the relationship between head and chair.
Patricia Davies drew warm praise for her work with students in her American-curriculum school, encouraging them to articulate their desire for more flexible IT arrangements with school leaders. Other practitioner sessions included that of Dr Colin Russell discussing how his school's curriculum had been changed and underpinned by staff research, and another by his depute head Rehana Shanks outlining her finding that Scottish primary teachers were largely unaware of the contents of three major reports which have shaped the reform of the nation's education system.
Professor Peter Early compared headteachers' induction of 25 years ago with 2011, finding better preparation but the same challenges, notably loneliness, and in two sessions on children's services the issue of dealing with change was also addressed. Professor David Cracknell and Dr Jane McKay examined leadership issues around working with the most vulnerable children in one session, whilst Dr McKay and Professor Rob Hulme looked at changes in the role of Directors of Children's Services in the other.
There were also a series of stimulating international sessions, including Michael Wilson's paper on the impact of Chinese National Curriculum reform, Mario Cutajar's analysis of the slow-paced education reforms in Malta, and a presentation from the Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration.
BELMAS is now officially celebrating its 40th anniversary year with several major events planned before the 2013 annual conference, which will be chaired by Professor Philip Woods and held at the Dalmahoy Hotel in Edinburgh during the weekend of 12-14 July.
The next major BELMAS event is the conference “Leadership and Policy in Education: Looking Back to Look Forward”, which will be held at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Birmingham on Wednesday November 21. For more details please click here.