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A Remarkable Generation

by Eddie Rayner

The Outstanding Schools Middle East Conference took place virtually from 12 – 14 October 2021. The conference bought together school leaders, practitioners, and experts from across the Gulf and the rest of the world to share insights, discuss best practice and find solutions to common challenges.

Professor Deborah Eyre, the founder of High Performance Learning, kicked off the conference with an inspiring presentation on why we need to reframe the narrative around learning loss. The key message from this presentation, and one that resonated throughout the day, was to not see our learners as a lost generation but rather that we should be telling our students that they are remarkable. They have taken a crash course into how to be remarkable, how to be persistent, how to be resilient and open-minded. They have had a huge amount of new experiences, and they have, for the most part, adapted and thrived. So rather than being the lost generation they are potentially better prepared for their life ahead than any generation before them.

This was nicely followed by Professor John Hattie’s keynote presentation in which he echoed Professor Eyre’s views that we should not “presume learning loss”; specifically we should not presume that those kids that struggled in the regular classrooms are the same ones that struggled during Covid. He reminded the viewers that the most important thing, right at this moment, is to check the subtleties of every child and to not presume that what happened in the classroom will happen online, and vice-versa.

Following this inspirational start, the conference explored key discussion points in Teaching & Learning and Wellbeing & Inclusion specifically around the use of technology to remove barriers to education; how to maximise feedback and assessment for learning to impact student progress; and how to effectively equip students with the necessary skills to succeed in tomorrow’s society.

After a day full of interactivity and insightful discussions, Dr Debra Kidd shared her view on how we can create a curriculum of hope. Dr Kidd considered how good curriculum design can empower schools to build bridges between their pupils’ learning and the world around them.

And finally, the long-awaited keynote Professor Dylan Wiliam, established why formative assessment needs to be the priority for every school.

Dr Kidd considered how good curriculum design can empower schools to build bridges between their pupils’ learning and the world around them

In this presentation, Professor Dylan Wiliam argues for formative assessment as being one of the key priorities for every school in taking their schools forward. In his words: “The single most important concept in education improvement is opportunity cost. Every hour the teacher spends doing one thing is an hour they don’t have to spend on something else.” Professor Wiliam goes on to explain the high level of impact of formative assessment on student progress and therefore makes the case for formative assessment and effective feedback to be the priority for every teacher and school leader in the world.

After many thought-provoking presentations and discussions, the day concluded with a reminder from Professor John Hattie: “I think every time someone mentions the phrase ‘learning loss’, you should treat it as an insult to our profession.”

From Crisis to Opportunity

On day two of the conference, our esteemed panel of keynotes started the day by considering how schools can move from a state of crisis to a state of opportunity. They looked at opportunities in leadership and business transformation, as well as how to take a human-centred approach to technology to drive school improvement. One key takeaway from Sir Christopher Stone was that a one-size-fits-all approach to blended learning will not work, especially as we now have the opportunity to be far more inclusive. Indeed, through personalised learning, we have the chance to make learning fun and more centred around the child’s needs and context, while of course keeping in mind child protection and our responsibility and duty of care for the children.

“I think every time someone mentions the phrase ‘learning loss’, you should treat it as an insult to our profession”

Professor Payyazhi and Dr Natasha Ridge on the other hand reminded us of the importance of empathetic leadership, for the people around us and even for ourselves and acknowledged the challenges around school leadership when there is a global sense of uncertainty. The keynote panellists were supported by Lucy Spencer, who emphasised the opportunity of technology as a tool for transformation.

Day two saw a number of presentations, panels and roundtable discussions around team leadership, professional learning and well-being, alongside marketing and admissions, recruitment and retention, and finance and operations. The day came to a close after Dr Andreas Schleicher delivered a keynote on learning in an interconnected world, before joining Jane Larsson, and Dr Asma Al-fadala in a keynote discussion that looked at what kinds of schools we need for the future. The key takeaways were on the importance of diversity, equality and inclusion and the need to empower and welcome schools, leaders and teachers into policy discussions to ensure that all stakeholders can thrive in a complex and uncertain world.

In the words of Dr Andreas Schleicher: “The question we need to ask ourselves is not how do we build back better but how do we move forward differently.” This conference has given participants much to consider around the learning provision they deliver and how to continue to create the conditions for every child to thrive inside and outside of the classroom.