The dark side of the whiteboard - O joy, conference time is with us

16th July 2010 at 01:00

It's conference time again. Rumour has it the day will be run on a continental timetable. I imagine us dipping warm brioche into bowls of creamy milk, dabbing flakes of croissant with moistened forefingers while a mustachioed accordionist plays La Marseillaise, a pack of crumpled Gauloises bulging from the cap-sleeve of his hooped T-shirt.

Wrong again. Continental, a colleague informs me, means an early start. The only thing French about this Inset experience will be the dawn chorus and unshaved legs. No camembert, no grassy Bordeaux. Instead, there will be Costco muffins and stewed tea in polystyrene cups served in an assembly hall awash with Blue Harbour polo shirts, cargo shorts and Birkenstocks. I can hardly wait. The one frisson of excitement will be when we have to pick a workshop from a range of exciting pedagogical opportunities such as: "Making your KS3 data APP compliant", "Effective use of hanging file folders" and "Keeping them quiet with fidget toys: an essential guide to secondary SEN provision".

I am saddened that two of this year's most promising sessions - "Living under lacklustre leadership" and "Rarely cover: a teacher's legal rights" - have been unaccountably scratched from the programme. In their place, we are offered "Maintaining schools for the future: a teacher's guide to remedial roofing", launched by our SMT in response to the sight of our BSF bid sailing down the Swanny. I suspect the Government's freeze on the BSF project may have a knock-on effect on other schools' training programmes, too. If your CPD application involves wearing a boiler suit, wielding a closet auger or scaffolding the sports hall instead of Shakespeare, you are still in with a chance.

I love the ambition of conferences. They offer teachers an intoxicating alchemy of strategies that promises to turn base results into gold. Open-mouthed, open-minded and with open-toe sandals, we worship at the altar of the latest "must have" innovation in teaching and learning. Each year brings us a new Messiah: philosophy for children, accelerated learning, emotional intelligence, thinking skills. Like the Stepford Wives, we synthesise our learning, manage our impulsivity, and with our De Bono thinking hats set at a jaunty angle, we put our numbered heads together and buy into this season's innovation. By the end of the conference, we can clearly see the emperor's stunning new Armani two-piece and we wander off convinced that we have a life-changing repertoire of teaching and behaviour-management strategies under our belts.

But it's not just teachers who succumb to brainwashing at conference time. In a previous life, I worked in marketing for a leading theatre. To keep up with arts marketing trends, I attended all the big conferences, where I discovered I could stamp out social inequality through effective data management and turn the long-term unemployed into owner-occupying cultural ambassadors by giving them free tickets. Had I bought a new box-office system I dare say I could have cured Aids.

The thing about conferences is that they offer quick-fix solutions to problems that need open-heart surgery. A tub of ice-cream and a night at the National Theatre are not likely to result in a Damascene conversion for an Asbo kid from Peckham; nor will the most outrageously fashionable teaching and learning accessories cure the malaise in schools - especially not in the hands of someone as ham-fisted as me.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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