#CelebrateEd: A culture of collaboration and evidence

Written by: Sean Harris | Published:
Together: The first annual CelebrateEd event took place at the Northumbria University Business School in July. The CelebrateEd and Ednorth initiatives aim to support a culture of collaboration, innovation and evidence-based teaching (image: CelebrateEd)
I read with interest about next year's CelebrateEd conference and wondered whether there were any ...

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Launched last term, CelebrateEd is a celebration of education in the North of England and part of the Ednorth collaboration of schools. Teacher Sean Harris reports from the initiative’s first annual meeting and looks at their aims and ambitions for the months ahead…

“Bright, fierce and fickle is the South. And dark and true and tender is the North.” So wrote Alfred Tennyson in 1847 in his serio-comic narrative poem The Princess: O Swallow.

I am not for sparking political debates of a North-South divide – there are already enough hotly contested dialogues happening in the forum of education. Neither does the teaching profession need any further fiery arrows...

However, writing in the Guardian in June, Bridget James reminded us: “The focus on what is happening in education is kicked down the dusty road. We’ve been seeing unprecedented cuts for a decade. The sector is on its knees.”

So, when an entire region “up North” decides to facilitate the first ever Northern Celebration of Education, I am curious to understand what is being celebrated and the ways in which the region engages with it.

CelebrateEd was launched in July by Schools North East, a network of all 1,150 schools in the North East region, in partnership with the All North Teaching Schools Alliance, the Education Endowment Foundation, Northumbria University and SHINE.

It is the first of what will be many annual events aimed at celebrating and championing the work that the North’s teaching community does in schools.

CelebrateEd is a central part of the Ednorth programme, which is also being managed by Schools North East and SHINE and which aims to transform the teaching profession in the North East by supporting a culture of collaboration, innovation and evidence-based teaching practices which are context-specific.

Game-changer? Speaking at CelebrateEd in July, Chris Zarraga, director of operations and development at Schools North East, said: “Ednorth aims to change the game completely, creating an environment in which teachers at all levels can share their expertise, develop practice, and bring the latest research, pedagogy and evidence-informed approaches into their own classrooms.”

Schools North East was set up by the region’s schools, determined to take charge of their own destiny and not wait for others to ride to their rescue. Ednorth aims to take this even further and, eventually, enable the North East’s teaching profession to drive education policy from the chalkface.

On arrival at Northumbria University Business School, the chosen venue for CelebrateEd, colourful bunting leads the way through to the main room where North East headteacher Iain Veitch kicks off the celebration with an impassioned speech on challenging the narrative of an underperforming, desolate, North East.

He begins: “As you approached the celebration today it may well have been that your minds did not dwell upon the fact that you were walking or driving through a city once renowned as the home of passion, engagement, aspiration and invention.”

He reminds delegates who came by car that they likely crossed the High Level Bridge, the first dual purpose bridge ever in the world; or if they came by foot, the Millennium Bridge, the first tilting bridge in the world.

He name-drops a vast number of innovators and pioneers from the North. Figures such as Joseph Swan, who in 1859 exhibited the first commercially viable electric lightbulb, and Gertrude Bell, who defied Victorian oppression to become a writer, archaeologist and political officer.

He is also quick to remind us of today’s local movers and successful shakers from the business and economic world of the North, including Greggs, originally of Newcastle, and Hays Travel of Sunderland.

His premise is a direct challenge and prompt to action for educationalists – the North East of England has been the home of pioneers and dreamers – individuals and groups that were committed to succeeding and changing their world. The teaching community of the North is a collection of like-minded pioneers and dreamers, he says.

Elsewhere at the event is Ednorth advocate Jane Grey, director of teacher development at James Calvert Spence College in Northumberland, who tells me that Ednorth “allows teachers from areas of remote geography to pull together around common problems in order to find common solutions and take them back into the classroom”.

For her, collaboration is key and already on the back of her involvement with CelebrateEd she has reached out to both Evidence-Based Education and Ambition Institute to help create forums in her school to share evidence-informed approaches to both assessment and teaching.

Meanwhile, Debra de Muschamp, headteacher of Valley Road Academy in Sunderland and another Ednorth advocate, was keen to share her insights: “It is great sharing a sense of identity with this gathering of professionals and being a part of something in the North that celebrates the positives in our profession.”

Debra, who has served in education for more than 30 years, continued: “It is also an opportunity for leaders in the North to really think about how we influence and inspire emerging leaders in our schools.”

As I spend time talking with colleagues and professionals at the event it is clear I am making a mistake by describing them as “delegates”. Professor Rob Coe, an Ednorth ambassador, invites me to spend five minutes with him and takes time away from his laptop screen and various discussions with colleagues.

“This is not a conference,” he said, “it is about helping to establish a community of professionals who are leading strategies and initiatives in their schools.”

His enthusiasm and sense of conviction are convincing, as I look around I see colleagues celebrating the very best of the profession in the North East.

He talks about how the network will not impose a standard directive of how to do the job or challenge teachers to do it a certain way back in their schools: “There are many different ways of engaging with Ednorth. What we want to do is to create a forum for dialogue and for system leaders, teachers and colleagues to consider their approach to their work in schools in an evidence-informed way.”

To further support Ednorth and the development of CelebrateEd, the Schools North East team will also be launching the Ednorth virtual community. This will encourage and challenge practitioners across the UK and across the globe to share good practice and to seek advice around issues facing their classrooms and schools.

In turn, it is anticipated that more colleagues will join the next CelebrateEd event to showcase some of the exemplary work going on in the North’s classrooms.

  • Sean Harris is the North East director for Ambition Institute. Sean regularly writes for SecEd and is a published author in the fields of education, theology and youth work. He is a governor for a school in Northumberland. You can follow him @SeanHarris_NE. To read his previous best practice articles for SecEd, visit http://bit.ly/2KlDQqc

Further information

  • Bookings have now opened for CelebrateEd 2020, which will take place in June. To find out more about this event and the Ednorth collaboration – or to download presentations and information from the July event – contact Schools North East or visit www.ednorth.uk/celebrateed
  • Follow the CelebrateEd and Ednorth conversations on Twitter via @EdNorthUK and https://twitter.com/hashtag/CelebrateED
  • Despair over school funding and education system in Britain, James, The Guardian, June 2019: http://bit.ly/2oTIoMD

I read with interest about next year's CelebrateEd conference and wondered whether there were any exhibiting opportunities at the event. Please will you be good enough to let me know if ther are any along with further details.

Many thanks

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