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Podcast | Season 3 | Episode 4: A Day at the Schools & Academies Show Birmingham

Season 3 | Episode 4: A Day at the Schools & Academies Show Birmingham

In this new episode of the Schools & Academies Show Podcast, we give you a round up of all the action from the Schools & Academies Show Birmingham 2022,  bringing you all the headlines to come out of the show and give you an insight to the thought process behind curating a topical and relevant agenda.

The headlines to come out from the Schools & Academies Show:
  • The ‘transformational journey’ to an all- Academy world will have its challenges.
  • The Education Skills and Funding Agency seek to build positive relationships with the wider sector.
  • Digital Exams cannot gamble with young people’s futures.

Join the conversation and let us know your thoughts by tweeting us @SAA_Show

This episode was brought to you by Capita and Entrust.

Listen to the full episode below.


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Alex Wallace:
Hello, and welcome to the Schools & Academies Show Podcast. Thank you for joining us. And for our regular listeners, this episode will be to a slightly different format.

Sam Powell:
That's because we just got back from Schools & Academies Show Birmingham, it was great. Thanks for asking. Hopefully, we saw you there. But if not, we wish we'd been able to.

Alex Wallace
: For those of you that weren't at the show, don't worry. This month's podcast will tell you the best things that you missed on the Schools & Academies Show.

Sam Powell:
While in a normal month, we cover three stories from the wider world of education. This month, we're going to be covering all the biggest stories coming out of SAAS. And we're probably going to peel the curtain back a little to give you an idea of what goes into producing an event like this. We'll try to keep the self-aggrandizement to a minimum though, hopefully.

Alex Wallace:
So does that mean that we're our own special guests this month?

Sam Powell:
I guess so. Well, it was bound to happen eventually, wasn't it?

Alex Wallace:
Well, what a privilege this. Thanks for joining us for the Schools & Academies Show round-up, and we hope you enjoyed the episode.

Sam Powell:
This podcast is brought to you by Capita and Entrust. Capital and Entrust work with national education authorities, Multi Academy Trusts and schools as a trusted education partner, enabling young people to achieve better educational outcomes. So as our pre-intro self said all our stories this month follow on from the Schools & Academies Show Birmingham.

Alex Wallace:
As the country's leading education policy event, with some heavy hitters, both speaking and attending as delegates, the contents of sessions were bound to get written up somewhere.

Sam Powell:
Our opening mainstage panel had some real heavyweights on it. We were lucky enough to be joined by the Right Honourable Lord Jim Knight, the chair of E-act and former Minister of State for Schools and Learning, Hannah Woodhouse, the Regional Director for the Southwest, Paul Gosling, the President of the NAHT (and friend of the podcast actually, go check out his episode!), Jude Hillary, the Head of UK Policy and Practice Research at the NFER and Steve Rowlett, who is the Deputy CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts.

Alex Wallace:
When we first had the idea of this panel, we wanted it to be a discussion of the transformational journey of all schools entering into MATs by 2030. Looking at what this target actually meant in real terms for schools and the challenges facing the sector entering into this new All-MAT world. Sam, you were in charge of running the Main Stage that day making sure that speakers are there on time. What did it look like to you ringside? How did it feel in the room?

Sam Powell:
Well, if I'm really gonna force that boxing analogy of these being heavyweights, the panel definitely had a big fight feel heading into it.

Alex Wallace:
To be honest, I can't say I'm really surprised given the uncertainty about the looming 2030 targets and the names we had in the panel. What were the headlines to come out of the session?

Sam Powell:
Well, you've actually kind of already given people a spoiler there, Alex, when you mentioned uncertainty. That was the biggest thing coming out of it, uncertainty over whether academizing will help schools stay afloat, uncertainty over what makes a ‘strong’ trust, quote on quote, and uncertainty over whether economizing really does help improve struggling schools. One thing there's definitely no uncertainty over though was that academisation is here to stay. Hannah Woodhouse made it very clear that the DfE really believe in the academy trust model. And Steve Rowlett felt that we were at the tipping point now with over 50% of children being taught in trusts. Whether 2030 is set in stone or is just kind of an arbitrary number at this point is still up for debate. Just Hillary noted that to achieve that now, 25 schools a week would have to academise - we'll leave that up to you at home to decide if you think that's realistic or not. I thought it was a great session personally. The panelists all knew their stuff and the conversation was really thorough and engaging. And you could definitely feel that in the room. But I mean, don't just take my word for it. I managed to grab a few words of Steve Rollett once we wrapped so here's his thoughts.

Steve Rollett:
Yeah, hi, I had a brilliant day so far today. We had a really interesting discussion on the Main Stage, about the 2030 government vision for all schools to be part of a trust. And we talked about how that journey is arguably more difficult at the current time because of the financial constraints that schools find themselves operating within. We talked through some of the reservations that we know that some, some schools have about, what does it mean to be in a trust? Might I lose my autonomy and so on. But you know, we all came together I think, around a sense that actually there is the future of the education system is all schools working together. We at CST believe that ought to be in school trusts, but it all colleagues, I think, agree the importance of connecting professionals together. So it was a really, really good discussion that we enjoyed.

Alex Wallace:
Another session to get to a commended write-up, this time in schools week, was the keynote speech delivered by David Withey, the new Chief Executive with the Education and Skills Funding Agency or the ESFA for short.

Sam Powell
: Oh, David was a great speaker. And he really really welcomed the challenge of his time slot clashing with the Autumn Statement being delivered in Westminster. Yeah, the statement did draw the attention of a few people on the show floor to their phones, but let's be honest, it's not everyday you get to hear from the Chief Executive of the EFSA. So still, despite that clash, so many people flocked to his session to hear what he had to say.

Alex Wallace:
When curating an agenda and inviting speakers, we like to approach thought leaders from across the sector, whose school leaders may not get the opportunity to speak with directly. David is new to role and funding is always topical, now more so than ever, so him having the opportunity to engage with the sector was a win-win situation. Sam, again, you caught this session. What did David cover?

Sam Powell:
Well, actually, I caught more than that. I managed to grab a word with David once he wrapped up and I think his summary will do it more justice than mine would. So we're still here at the Schools & Academies Show Birmingham and David Withey, the Chief Exec of ESFA just wrapped up his keynote. I'm standing by with David. David, again, a great keynote, if you could give me just a little summary of what you've just spoken on. That'd be great.

David Withey:
Thanks, Sam. So I talked about a couple of things, I talked about the challenges that the sector is facing over the next period, and the role that the ESFA can hopefully play in helping them to resolve some of those challenges. The ESFA wear a couple of hats. We have a number of regulatory type powers. And those are really important. But we also have some supportive responsibilities in terms of building capability and understanding across the system to ensure that the trust leaders, school leaders, know what they have to do to make sure that we are achieving what I think is a shared goal and making sure that every pound spent on education goes to realize the biggest impact in terms of people's realizing their potential.

Davis Withey
: So I talked about three things. I talked about the role that we play in providing certainty for the sector. I talked about the role that we play in hopefully simplifying some of the financial management arrangements that we see. And I talked about my desire to make sure that we've got really strong partnership working relationships that provide support to trust leaders, and to school leaders, who might be worried about financial management matters. I ended with a plea to work with us, to help build that trust and to ensure that that conversation is a is a constructive and positive one, particularly as we face into what undoubtedly are going to be challenging financial times.

Sam Powell:
As you heard me allude to there, not only were the audience treated to a keynote from David, but they also got the chance to ask him questions to get better insights into the thought processes that the ESFA. Again, not something you get the chance to do every day.

Ales Wallace:
David wanted to address the relationship between the ESFA and the sector, noting that there is often a fear factor about their involvement, and how he wants to build a positive, trusting relationship.

Sam Powell:
When the topic of reserves came up, David noted that reserves are put away for rainy days. And well, quite clearly, it's raining, but also that it wouldn't be prudent to use reserves to manage longer term operational issues. David did reassure the room, however, that the ESFA is aware of the tough financial pressures and are monitoring the situation closely, stating to the leaders in the room that quote, “we hear you”.

Alex Wallace:
Another organization our audience are keen to hear from was Ofqual, especially considering the stresses and demands that exam placed on staff and pupils. And it would have been hard to have missed the news stories and headlines around examinations over the last two years.

Sam Powell:
And who are we to tell them no, which is exactly why we had Ofqual there, being represented by their char, Ian Bauckham. Ian delivered a keynote about looking ahead to the 2023 exams and the future of digital exams. Once again, I managed to grab a quick word with Ian once he wrapped up. So if you missed the keynote, here is the summary. Ian, could you possibly let the people at home know what you've just finished speaking on and what they missed out on by not attending the show this year?

Ian Bauckham:
Absolutely. So it was great to be back here in Birmingham at the Academies show. What I was talking about this morning was just recapping what we're doing for exam grading; GCSE and A level and vocational and technical qualifications in summer 2023, reminding everybody that after the successful return of examinations in 2022, in 2023, we're going to continue that development and return broadly speaking to a normal approach to grading, which will be determined by senior examiner's once they've reviewed candidate scripts and guided by information that Ofqual gives them and the aim will be to get back to the normal grading standard that we had from 2019 and before. So that was the first thing I talked about. And then the second thing I talked about, was the possible future of exams in the light of the digital revolution, which is happening in all our lives at the moment, and just talks about the importance of us, Ofqual, as a regulator, having enough understanding and knowledge of this field to be able to make the right decisions in the interests of young people and candidates for exams when awarding organizations proposed to us approaches for using digital technology. Digital technology; many possible advantages and benefits, but we do have to proceed with caution because we can't take risks or do experiments with young people's futures.

Alex Wallace
: One of the most important things to come out of this session was that Ofqual would be returning to the pre-pandemic grading measures. However, pupils will have the same safeguards in place that they had during the pandemic, with prior attainment data being considered.

Sam Powell:
Ian highlighted the potentially distressing fact that we should expect to see grades fall this year compared to the year previous, but was keen to manage expectations, saying that this shouldn't be seen as a drop in school performance but instead it's just a shift towards normal grading standards following the pandemic.

Alex Wallace:
Bauckham stressed that SLT should not worry about this dip in performance. However, as a former teacher, we all know that those red columns on spreadsheets will send alarm bells ringing.

Sam Powell:
The second half of Ian's keynote covered the digital revolution and its impact on exams. It seems that Ofqual feel it will be a matter of when not if digital exams has become the norm. For Ian stressed that young people's futures are not a tool to try out new experiment, which is why they are committed to unearthing all the risks and benefits of digital exams before they move any further. While these were all fantastic sessions, the Schools and Academies Show is a lot bigger than just these three, and the stages cover everything you could ever want from school improvement to school business, to SEND issues and even debates around the hot topic.

Alex Wallace:
One of the sessions that I'm really proud that we put together was the panel featuring Baroness Morris of Yardley, Lord Jim Knight, and David Lord. Their session looked at the development of education policy over the last 20 years.

Sam Powell:
With these three being dubbed the gods of education going into the session, there was a big buzz, and there weren't many empty seats in the house, let me tell you. With these three being out of the game now, there was no need for them to tow their party line. And they were really able to reflect on the success and the failures of the education sector over time.

Alex Wallace:
I managed to catch up with Estelle Morris after the panel. I'm joined by a bit of a hero of mine, Lady Morris of Yardley, Esther Morris, Former Secretary of State for Education. Estelle, can you just tell us what you've been speaking about and some of the challenges that you think schools are currently facing at the moment?

The Rt Hon. Baroness Morris of Yardley:
Well, it's been a bit of reflection, really with David and Jim, on our time in power, looking back, where do we think the turning points were and what we've learned. I mean, that in itself is really nice to be able to do, we don't do that as much in education as we should.

Sam Powell: SEND is always one of the most popular and important topics that we cover at the show. Anyone involved in SEN knows that it's a constant challenge, which is why the SEND Theatre is all about bringing communities together to share best practice, and help to build the best world possible for SEN Pupils. I thought it was a great agenda this year - but don't just take my word for it. Here's a few of our speakers who covered SEND Health Checks and building inclusive cultures.

Alex Wallace:
So I'm here with two of our speakers outside the SEND Theatre and they’re going to explain to you what they've done and what they spoke about.

Dr Amy Such & Dr Anisa-Ree Moses: So we've been presenting our SEND health checks, which are basically a whole school audit around SEND and inclusion, just coming in as a critical friend, looking at what services, what provision, what is in place in your school, and identifying that really positive practice. And then any areas where, actually we could make a few small tweaks to support schools in providing a really inclusive environment for their children and young people. So we are Learning and Wellbeing, Psychology CIC. So we're a group of educational psychologists that really take that step back, I suppose, and have that objective view to support those in school to really think about their SEND inclusion and what they offer within school, really appreciating and celebrating what they do. And also thinking with them strategically about where things maybe could move forward.

Alex Wallace:
It's your first time speaking at the SAASHOW. Do you think you'll come back either as delegates or speakers in the future?

Dr Amy Such & Dr Anisa-Ree Moses: Definitely. Hopefully – we’d love to be invited back. Definitely.

Alex Wallace:
Thank you ever so much for your time. Really appreciate it. Thank you.

Ales Wallace:
So what's your role within the sector?

So I'm a joint head teacher in a special school.

Alex Wallace:
Cool. And apart from speaking, what brought you to the Schools & Academies Show

It's always a good opportunity to be able to ensure that the thoughts and voices of people working in SEND are heard by a broad a broad audience.

Alex Wallace
: And have you picked up any key takeaways from today?

Well, I'm looking forward to listening to Baroness Morris later, I'm sure that's going to be an interesting conversation. And what has been particularly interesting is seeing some of the innovative opportunities that are available to schools still. Despite there not being much money in the system, people are still thinking of interesting ways to enable schools to do the job better.

Alex Wallace:
Thank you so much. The Schools & Academies Show Podcast leaves no educational stone unturned. And an often-missed discussion when it comes to education issues, is the role of governors and governance. But, considering that they are some of the key decision makers, their voices ought to be heard.

Sam Powell:
That's why we made sure to welcome Emma Knights, the CEO of the National Governors Association to SAAS to talk about the future of governance. Take a listen. So the sun is just about to set on another Schools and Academies Show. I'm stood here with Emma Knights, the Chief Executive of the National Governance Association. Emma was the grand finale, you could say on our Main Stage. So, Emma, could you possibly give us a little summary of your keynote? Just let the people at home know what they missed out on. And, you know, maybe just your thoughts on what the future of governance looks like as we move towards 2030.

Emma Knights:
Thank you so much for having governance on the main stage. Obviously, the National Governors Association thinks it ought to be there, but actually much more importantly, it is the governing boards who are the decision makers in the changes that will be happening between now and let's say, 2030. So that's really what I was talking about, what are the sorts of decisions that governing bodies have maintained schools have to make? What about if you're a single Academy Trust thinking about whether you're going to join a MAT? But actually, MAT boards themselves have to think about; Do they want to grow? How do they grow? And I particularly talked about merging of MATs because some MATs are really very small and may not find enough schools to join them. And then the last thing I tried to cover was actually what does good trust governance look like? Because there's lots of literature, lots of support on that now, but people are still needing a bit of reassurance that that's not going to change dramatically over the next few years. So I hope that we can continue to support you to do that well, whatever structure you're in.

Sam Powell:
Fantastic stuff. Thank you so much, Emma, thank you for helping us represent governance here at the Schools & Academies Show. Hopefully, we've won you over with the stories we told you today from the show, but I'm afraid that's all from us here live on the show floor today. We'll see you real soon.

Alex Wallace:
Well, much like Sam said in that interview, it's time for the sun to set on this episode as well I’m afraid. As always, I'd like to thank our guests.

Sam Powell
: Oh don’t worry Alex, it was a pleasure.

Alex Wallace: We normally wrap things up by telling you to register for the Schools and Academies Show and don't put it completely out of your head. The show will return to the ExCeL in London in May, with registration opening in the new year.

Sam Powell:
But seeing as we're pretty much as far away as possible from the next show, your time is best spent catching up with all the best bits from the Birmingham show just gone. Whether you want to relive the memories or just get jealous of those who were able to make them, make sure that you follow us @SAA_Show and keep up with the #SAASHOW to view all the best bits from the show floor and the theatres. And while you're at it make sure to follow the Schools and Academies Show on LinkedIn too.

Alex Wallace:
Well that's all from us this month. Until then, goodbye everyone.

Sam Powell:
We'll see you real soon folks. With a real guest next time I promise. This episode was produced and edited by Alessandro Bilotta, Sam Powell and Alex Wallace.

Sam Powell:
Really? You're still here? I thought I asked you to show yourself out last time. Look, I don't even have anything extra for you. I've been away in Birmingham at the show. So you might as well just go. Don't look at me like that, for God's sake. Fine. You can stay a little longer. But if you're here next month you’re paying rent.