TEDx NorwichED – Ideas Worth Sharing?

Yesterday’s TEDx conference in Norwich was titled ‘Thinking Differently’. It was no surprise, then, that a wide range of speakers were selected to address the delegates, most of who work in education.

There were some notable highlights – Mary Myatt speaking about the benefits of high-challenge low threat testing, Vic Goddard explaining why Michael Wilshaw is wrong to link TV ‘reality’ shows about schools to the teacher recruitment crisis and Alistair Bryce-Clegg entertaining us all with tales from the Early Years…

There were also some very interesting contributions from those who are not as directly involved in teaching. A local 6th form student, Jason Brown, spoke passionately about the use of technology in the classroom and certainly challenged some of my thinking on the issue, and 2 speakers on the importance of encouraging more students to get involved in coding and software development certainly highlighted an area that schools need to do more on, to shed the old ICT and transition to a modern computing curriculum (although I wasn’t impressed at their claim that they ‘don’t use maths’ and if they need to they just ‘Google it’!).

Scattered through the speakers you might expect to find at an event like this were some speakers from other sectors, all of whom have an active interest in education in one form or another. Obviously, this is to be welcomed. The more opportunities we can give our students to get involved in other activities alongside their curriculum, the better. What did concern me about some of these speakers though, were sweeping generalisations about the current education system, that were then used to justify ideas which I think most certainly are not worth sharing. Variously, we were told (amongst other things):

  • Schools tell students that good grades are the only things that get them jobs
  • Schools impart a notion that we all have to work for 40 years, for 40 hours a week, to get a pension which is 40% of our salary
  • Students sit in rows learning pointless facts to pass exams they don’t care about which don’t matter
  • I didn’t do well in (x) but I’ve done ok


The most controversial speaker, to my mind at least, was Siam Kidd, a former RAF pilot who now works as an investor. He was certainly passionate, but passion alone doesn’t make a compelling argument. After a few minutes of sweeping generalisations about the state of the education system, Mr Kidd explained how he is planning to start a chain of free schools, ideally with Sir Ken Robinson involved in the creation of these schools. He outlined a 13 point plan, and I will blog again about all 13 in more detail once the video of the talk is online. One of the 13 points highlights where I feel the crossover between those who are trained to work in education, and those who wish to (for whatever reason) can be of some concern.

Mr Kidd told us that his schools would be based around the idea of students having preferred learning styles. There seemed to be a collective sigh amongst many of the teachers in the room at this, as those of us who work in education and try to keep on top of the research are well aware that the VAK model has been debunked. It is a myth. I tweeted as much, and have been dragged into arguments ever since with Mr Kidd, but also Richard Dwyer (another speaker – former stuntman and gymnast) and others who claim that they know learning styles exist, as they have seen students learning in their preferred ways! Clearly their anecdotal evidence is much more compelling than the actual research (which Mr Dwyer stated earlier today he hadn’t read), and I’m sure they will be telling Willingham et al why they are wrong in due course.

I am somewhat surprised that the organisers allowed a speaker to deliver a talk containing cod-science such as this. Yes, we need our thinking challenged, and the education system certainly needs to think of ways to deal with challenges it will face over the next few years. But these challenges will not be met with the promotion of old-hat ideas, nor will they be met by founding free schools which are based around these ideas. We obviously want people from outside the education sector to take an interest and be involved, but they must take the time to get a real picture of what is going on in schools, and they must also take the time to ensure they fully understand what they are proposing, and not just basing it on anecdote or hearsay.

Did the day challenge my thinking? Yes. Did it provide us with a range of speakers who Think Differently? Yes. But – TED is an organisation based around ideas worth sharing. It is a shame that a lot of these were obscured by some ideas that quite clearly aren’t.

The host of the day kept reminding us to start conversations – get in touch and tell me why I’m wrong!