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Sett grows into a learning festival

This year's Sett conference will have a stronger political agenda, with a powerful line-up of speakers and wide-ranging seminars, Gillian Macdonald reports

The "most important event in the Scottish education calendar" is how Learning and Teaching Scotland describes the Scottish Learning Festival, which takes place in September. If it's not a name you are familiar with, perhaps you'll recognise it as Sett 2005.

What was once the biggest information and communications technology showcase in Scotland is shedding its high-tech image to cater for all areas of teaching and learning.

Two years ago, 3,500 visitors attended the Sett show; last year it was 4,700, with Scottish teachers coming from as far afield as Orkney and Shetland, and overseas visitors from Norway, Sweden, Greece, Malaysia, Mauritius and Northern Ireland to see what Scottish education is doing.

This year the organisers hope to attract 5,000.

One reason for the swell in numbers is the importance of continuing professional development on the education agenda (this is the largest CPD event of the year). Another is that the annual conference (and exhibition) is free to teachers, because the Scottish Executive recognises its importance and foots the bill.

With access to such a huge audience of teachers, it is little wonder perhaps that the Executive has taken the opportunity to introduce two strands of seminars on Ambitious, Excellent Schools, which will run throughout the two days of September 21 and 22. These will cover areas such as parental involvement in education, critical skills, e-twinning with schools across Europe, vocational education in France, modern language immersion projects and the motivated school.

Similarly, a new strand on A Curriculum for Excellence will feature CPD and the learning agenda, how to engage with the curriculum review board, empowering pupils to take responsibility for their own learning, and the role of the teacher.

The Education Minister, Peter Peacock, will attend the first day of the conference, which in the past he has used as a platform for making important announcements.

Other seminar strands also reflect important issues on the national agenda.

A pathway on leadership includes sessions on schools of ambition by the programme manager, Denise Swanson, and leadership for school improvement by Chris Webb, a schools inspector. A pathway on national developments covers health promoting schools and Assessment is for Learning.

Just as the seminar programme reflects a wider agenda, so too do the keynote speakers. This year's line-up of 11 is the strongest, says a spokeswoman for LT Scotland.

"We've got Marc Prensky coming from the United States to talk about education games and e-learning techniques; Sir Ken Robinson, senior adviser to the J Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles and former professor of education at Warwick University, on creativity; and Guy Claxton, professor of learning sciences at Bristol University, on enabling people to be confident real-life learners," she says.

"But the keynotes also include spotlight sessions with a range of CPD topics, from Margaret Alcorn, the national co-ordinator for CPD, looking at the professional development agenda in Scotland, to Pamela Munn, dean of education at Edinburgh University, talking about behaviour.

"Barbara Prashnig, emeritus professor and director of training and research at Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, will talk about learning styles in New Zealand; and Carol Craig, chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being in Glasgow, will look at how we can create schools which build the confidence of both pupils and teachers."

Dylan Wiliam, director of the Learning and Teaching Research Center in the United States, will look at Assessment is for Learning and how teachers have put the ideas into practice.

Nicholas Janni, of Olivier Mythodrama Associates, returns by popular demand to draw on Shakespeare's Henry V to see what it is about inspirational leaders that makes people want to trust and follow them.

Professor Stephen Heppell, director of Learn3K, the new e-learning research centre at the National College of Ireland, and a former keynote speaker at the show, has described Sett as the only major event in Europe where practitioners share with other practitioners on such a large scale, a point highlighed by the fact that almost every Scottish education authority is represented in the seminar programme.

Among them will be a number of award-winning educators demonstrating their work in ICT, including Sheilah Jackson, head of Queensferry Primary in Edinburgh, Mary McLaughlin, head of Notre Dame High in Glasgow, classroom assistant Pamela McSwiggin of St Mary's Primary in Glasgow, and Tim Rylands of Chew Magna Primary in Bath.

A series of practical How to Use ... events will run after school hours to cater for classroom teachers who are unable to come earlier and the ICT exhibition, with over 100 exhibitors, will remain open till 6pm.

Last year SETT was branded the Scottish Learning Festival for the first time. This year, the organisers hope the festival idea will catch on, attracting other events to join it, as with the Edinburgh festivals in the summer. So watch out for the Leadership for Learning conference at the same venue, the SECC in Glasgow, the day before (September 20) and for the Masterclass and Heads Together conferences,which will run concurrently with the festival.

Most of all, the organisers hope that visitors will "enjoy a feel good factor about teaching and go away feeling inspired, motivated and valued".

The Scottish Learning Festival is supported by TES ScotlandBook online at or call 0870 421 1938

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