Spare me the conference's PowerPoint pains

2nd October 2009 at 01:00

After years as an education conference junkie, I'm clean at last. Addiction-free, I'm able to walk past a hotel without feeling the urge to rush in, pin on a shiny badge and network madly. So please don't make me attend another one - ever. This is the end. My conference days are done.

You see, conferring brings me out in a rash. I feel nauseous at the thought of the ubiquitous round table draped with white cloth and covered with bottled water, mints and slim pads of free paper. I have an irresistible urge to snatch one of the logo-inscripted pens and snap it at the first twist, or else become a doodling delegate - a zombie scribbler, drawing to ease the pain of another PowerPoint presentation.

Yes, I know. I've been spoilt. Wouldn't any teacher gladly sacrifice a day on the classroom floor for the chance of release? I suspect the reason I get so many applications from teachers to attend training events is because it's the nearest thing to a mini-break they can experience without showing their passport.

Their day out will feature a train ride, a smart luxury venue, a free meal that beats the normal pasta pot, and inspiring speeches about how to be, well, inspiring. It's all about vision. A conference without vision would be like Gypsy Rose Lee without her crystal ball. From Prime Minister to Education Secretary, from Ofsted chief to chief officer, the purveyors of platform wisdom proclaim moral purpose over canapes and passion with profiteroles.

But, ungrateful wretch that I am, I'm sick of it. Like Prufrock, I've had too many visions and revisions. Weary of downloading and uploading, I'm imploding and off-loading.

They're also about transformation: like poets, educationalists are now the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

"You will be in the vanguard of your own legacy," the speaker informed us at the last high-profile bash I attended. Just run that past me again - doesn't that mean we're all up our own backsides? Well, most presenters are, for sure.

"You can solve the national financial crisis!" he proclaimed, warming to his theme and glancing in my direction. Who, me? It's bad enough shovelling money into my offspring's bank accounts.

It's the school's ability to teach creativity, he went on to explain. So this will be the solution to all our debts: education, the panacea. I'm numbed into agreement. We can cure it, I mutter, holding coffee in one hand and fizzy water in the other. But, eyeing the cheesecake, the only cost I'm counting comes in calories.

Yet there is now a way of networking without the travel, time and expense. WebEx telephone conferences allow you to sit at your computer, see the presentations on screen, listen to the speeches and join in the discussion. And you can nip off to make a cup of tea while it's all going on and no one will find out.

You can put up your hand to make a comment with the click of your mouse, even sending messages in secret to other delegates. "What the hell's going on?" one late arrival asked me privately on screen. I didn't know either.

It's conferencing, but without the shiny trimmings and long-haul journeys. It takes a fraction of the time and money. It's my vision and I'm sticking to it. Now, pass the pasta pot ...

Ray Tarleton, Principal of South Dartmoor Community College, Ashburton, Devon.

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