Whispers from Westminster

18th March 2016 at 00:00
Movie stars, piles of cash and amazing teachers

So Stephen Hawking, Bill Clinton, Matthew McConaughey and the Pope walk into a bar. (Actually, it’s not a bar, it’s a five-star hotel, built on an artificial island in the shape of a palm tree). Anyway, they walk in. And they give a former Palestinian refugee $1 million.

That’s a pretty accurate reflection of what actually happened last Sunday in the final of the Global Teacher Prize. The star-studded ceremony (which also featured Salma Hayek, Prince William, US vice-president Joe Biden and Tony Blair) marked the end of the Global Education and Skills Forum, which TES was the international media partner for. You can read about it online at tes.com/news. Despite being gutted for British entrant Colin Hegarty – if for no other reason than we were denied the chance to see Nick Gibb congratulate a UK winner of best teacher in the world for their ground-breaking use of technology and flipped learning – Hanan Al Hroub was a worthy winner.

The symbolism of the Pope announcing the award-winner to be a Muslim woman was also quite something.

Away from the glitz, the forum was also a conference of around 1,500 teachers, administrators, policy folk, NGOs and businesses from all over the world congregating to discuss global education issues. The highlight for me was a moving presentation by the Lebanese minister for education, who spoke about how his country – which educates around 250,000 pupils in its state schools – is currently dealing with 450,000 school-aged Syrian refugees.

That’s the equivalent of the UK managing to deal with an extra 12 million pupils. In a country with hardly any resources, crumbling school buildings, and a curriculum that is 20 years old, he seems confident that in two years’ time, they will educate all of those children. It was inspiring.

The forum also featured two-on-two debates on contentious topics. This being Dubai, they were run – obviously – in a miniature replica House of Commons. My favourite was on whether we are becoming slaves to standardised assessment. The standout point of the debate was that “innovative teachers’ paradise” Finland and “Doug Lemov-infested standardised assessment warehouse” the US both spend the same proportion of classroom time on exams (about 2 per cent). I don’t think that this will stick. Too awkward.

And in no way ending with this just because it’s funny, I have to report there was dancing. Most notably including Brett Wigdortz, of Teach First, and the editor of this esteemed organ. If you look hard enough on Twitter (@AnnMroz), you can find video evidence. Even high priests of education reform need to relax sometimes.

Jonathan Simons is a former head of education in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit under Gordon Brown and David Cameron

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