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We Need to Hear from New Voices in Education

Fed up with hearing from the same voices in education over and over again? Ruth Luzmore was, too – so she decided to do something about it…

  • We Need to Hear from New Voices in Education

My frustration reached apex on the morning commute.

For once, it wasn’t the unreliability of South Western Railways or my fellow commuters’ habits which had irritated me; rather, it was reading the line up for a well-known education conference which had just been released.

Frustration because, of the 25 plus names on the schedule, there was not a single one I had not heard of before – and about and from – multiple times, in the press, at other conferences and on social media.

When I arrived at work, my morning post contained a hefty pack of flyers for another CPD organisation featuring, you guessed it, the same faces.

It had been refreshing and exciting to hear from these voices originally, and while they have continued to deliver interesting and thoughtful contributions, I knew there were so many more excellent practitioners out there.

It felt increasingly like there was an education establishment dominating the discourse, and it was in dire need of diversifying if we were going to keep the debate interesting and relevant.

I had recently returned from an academic education conference in the US where the schedule was the size of an old telephone directory (showing my age there).

There was so much choice it was actually overwhelming. Yet here we were with over 430,000 teachers in the country, and apparently only hearing from twenty of them.

That’s when I spotted someone who was feeling the same – and who ironically had quite a big following on social media herself: Jane Manzone (@heymisssmith).

We got chatting and just a week later, four of us, all current practitioners, met up in St Pancras Station to start organising a teaching conference dedicated to getting educators heard, who had not previously been given a platform. New Voices had officially begun.

Fresh and diverse

From the beginning, our criteria for speakers would be clear: we would only have presenters who had never spoken on the education conference scene before.

People began flooding us with submissions and it was not long before we put together a schedule of over 35 fresh voices for the event in October 2018.

We took speakers from all areas of the education scene and put together five different strands for the day: leadership, SEND, well-being, pedagogy and curriculum.

We were really proud to have a diverse range of topics which appealed to a broad audience including: the Holocaust; supporting trans pupils; curriculum and critical theory; music teaching; leading PE; using cognitive-science principles; maths mastery; building autonomy and trust; leading year groups… the list went on and on.

While we had come across some scepticism about our ability to draw in crowds without any ‘big names’, we were delighted that the venue (the wonderful Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) was packed on the day.

A surprise visit from Amanda Spielman cemented for us the importance of the establishment listening to new speakers and chatting with attendees in breaks, even if it was slightly nerve-wracking for those of us whose talks she sat through, taking notes.

Could it be you?

We set New Voices up with the aim that the conference should feel warm, welcoming and open, and have the best sandwiches and wine included in the ticket price.

We managed to achieve all of those things, and are keen that this shouldn’t be a one-off event.

It is important to us to continue to support the first set of New Voices as they carry on sharing their experience and stories. But we are already thinking about next year’s event and the next set of first-timers we want to get out there.

The days of isolation in a classroom and school are over. As a profession we have the opportunity to learn so much from one another – there is plenty to be gained from joining the debate.

At New Voices, we are always interested in hearing from colleagues who have an idea or experience they want to share.

Take a look at our website (new-voices.co.uk) to find out more about what was on offer at last year’s conference; and perhaps, sign up to get yourself heard in 2019.

Ruth Luzmore is headteacher at St Mary Magdalene Academy, and director of New Voices.

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