Dream weavers' are brought to their feet

30th September 2011 at 01:00

It's not often you see a standing ovation at the Scottish Learning Festival. But after Sir John Jones built to a stirring crescendo, a few people shot out of their seats; seconds later, hundreds in the Lomond Auditorium were on their feet.

The last time this reporter saw such a spontaneous groundswell of acclaim, it was 1991 and the Reverend Billy Graham was appealing for lost souls to join him in the centre circle at Pittodrie.

On paper it sounded like Sir John - a former head in a Merseyside secondary - might be a touch dry: "How can we break this cycle of deprivation and give every youngster the chance to succeed in our rapidly changing world?" In reality, he delivered an hour of couthy humour, caustic disdain for education's bureaucrats, and rousing tales of how teaching can change the world.

He was a tweeter's dream, dispensing nuggets of wisdom in 140 characters: "Google can teach history, but it is a teacher that teaches the love of history"; "Hard work beats lazy genius every time"; "Teaching is the art of asking brilliant questions and telling fantastic stories".

But it was more than a random selection of cockle-warming aphorisms. There was an anti-establishment streak that played well, particularly when he told employers of teachers to recruit people with passion, not knowledge of the curriculum.

He reminded his audience to treat pupils as individuals, each with different dreams. One former schoolboy had told him school was rubbish because it never let him do the thing he loved, fly fishing. Sir John asked teachers if they were preparing pupils for a test or for life. "You can't separate caring and teaching," he said. "It is one and the same thing."

It occasionally verged on schmaltz as mood music welled up and Sir John told teachers they were pupils' "dream weavers". But this was a week after the McCormac review. Teachers who might be confined to school premises, lumbered with admin, and have to vacate their classrooms for non-qualified experts felt under attack.

All of a sudden, Sir John was telling them that they exist not to plough through reams of photocopying or supervise the canteen, but to weave dreams. No wonder they got on their feet.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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