Musings from the 2022 Festival of Education

Well, it certainly felt like a festival with a flow of summer dresses as we sweltered in temperatures of nearly 30 degrees!

The Festival of Education, founded by Wellington College in 2010, is one of the UK’s most inspiring educational events. The festival runs over two days and includes hundreds of discussions, presentations and workshops on a wide variety of topics. This year, thousands of educators from around the UK and beyond attended to get inspired by a whole host of speakers. There was also a plethora of exhibition stands scattered around the beautifully landscaped gardens of Wellington College with its impressive buildings, including a Japanese temple!

Luckily for Penelope Woolf (Director of Impact, Oxford University Press) and I, we got to present in one of the classrooms, which was nicely air-conditioned. Our session was based around some impact research that was undertaken to inform our new Oxford International Curriculum (OIC). The OIC puts wellbeing at the core of learning, both as a discrete topic and interwoven across four key subjects. So, we commissioned Dr Ariel Lindorff, Department of Education, University of Oxford to undertake an Evidence analysis impact study* to investigate any potential links between wellbeing and attainment as well as any other educational outcomes.

Within our session, we discussed why focusing on wellbeing is so important (even pre-pandemic!) and explained how the research was commissioned and undertaken, shared the key findings, and explained how they were used to inform OIC implementation and training, which was in development.

And yes, the Evidence analysis did discover that there is robust evidence that wellbeing is positively related to academic attainment. These relationships hold true across different contexts and countries, although it was found that there are some differences by age group and student background characteristics.

We can’t underestimate the influence that teachers and schools have on children as they travel towards adulthood. However, we also acknowledged the constraints that educators face and how difficult it can be for schools to ensure that their pupils’ mental, social and physical wellbeing is catered for along with all of the other priorities that a school has to deal with. In addition, we thought it was important to recognise that a lot of schools are doing this already to some extent, even pre-pandemic, although everyone will be at a different stage of the journey.

One of the benefits of our research was that we not only found that there was a link between wellbeing and academic attainment, but that the level of success depended on implementation. It emerged that there were six common approaches that linked those schools that were successfully implementing wellbeing. Informed by these six approaches, we shared practical strategies for schools to use based on the following subheadings:

  • Tailor to and account for specific school context
  • Take an integrated, cross-level (school and classroom) approach
  • Actively engage the wider community, including parents, carers and families
  • Focus on professional development for teachers to support them with implementation
  • Put monitoring systems in place to keep track of and adjust implementation as needed
  • Ensure that sufficient time and resources are available.

It became apparent from the discussions following the presentation that it can sometimes feel like there is a tension between a focus on wellbeing and how Ofsted measures schools. A primary teacher explained how, during a school inspection, the Ofsted inspector had fully appreciated the work that her school was doing in catering for pupils’ wellbeing, which is great news!

Alongside our own session, Penelope and I went back to school and attended some other sessions. A Psychologist’s Secret to Raising Happy, Confident and High Achieving Children: Even in a Devastating Pandemic, by Natasha Tiwari from the Veda Group was an insightful and interactive session focused on children’s wellbeing. It looked at how to better connect with children in order to boost their self-esteem and confidence as well as support them better with achieving their full potential. It often just takes finding that one thing that children are talented in or passionate about (no matter how obscure!) and using that as a steppingstone to improving their confidence.

Penelope checked in on our colleague Amie Hewish’s presentation with Genevieve Bent, Assistant Principal, Harris Federation, on what a difference it makes when students identify with a subject and how it can have a significant impact on their educational outcomes. It was wonderful to hear from Genevieve about how she tries to overcome stereotypical attitudes to science and how she introduces students to a diverse range of contemporary scientists.

We also saw what St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, USA has learnt over their last 10 years from setting up its own Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning and how it trains all its teachers and leaders in evidence-based practices and strategies covering a wide range of topics such as cognitive load, memory, lesson and feedback delivery and homework. A fascinating and engaging session.

Big themes of the day included wellbeing and metacognition alongside the importance of research. Plus, I lost count of the number of times that I heard ‘growth mindset’ mentioned (myself included!).

Overall, the event proved to be very enjoyable and inspiring, and we came back energised and eager to come back again next year. It was extremely well organised and managed, and we would highly recommend it to anyone. In fact, you can already sign up for info on next year’s event!

Find out more about:

The impact study and its findings on ‘The impact of promoting student wellbeing on student academic and non-academic outcomes’: where you can also watch a video by Dr Ariel Lindorff, Department of Education, University of Oxford highlighting the key findings.

Oxford Impact Oxford University Press’s approach to evaluating the impact of our educational products and services on teaching and learning along with information on our impact studies.

* An impact study is research that investigates a particular change or outcome that a product or service has on the group of people it is intended to help or benefit. An Evidence analysis seeks to find and analyse a range of literature (research articles, books, etc.) on a specific topic of interest to uncover evidence and create an overall picture. You can find a full breakdown of the literature referenced in the impact study report.