Prof Patrick McGhee

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Festival of Higher Education 2018

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2018 at 6:50 pm

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So that’s the afternoon of Day 1 finished.

Well, to be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but in the end this has been one of the best conferences I’ve been to in quite sometime. The debate and panel structure, alongside a genuine enthusiasm to get as many contributions from the floor as possible, makes each session fresh and unpredictable. This is not the sort of event where you can rely on reading the papers, or worse still, the PowerPoints at a later date. On the mental health in schools session we not only had 25+ contributions from the floor but also an impromptu collective mindfulness meditation when one delegate, quite reasonably, said the very pace of gather floor contributions was unsettling.

Sir Anthony Seldon appears to be in several places at once and fills each session with passion, insight, lived experience – and disruptive provocation – in equal measure. He is a proactive host. By my calculation he will have spoken to every delegate by around 11.23am tomorrow.

The themes of Artificial Intelligence, mental health, and The Future infuse all the sessions. Additionally, for a brand which draws heavily on the notion of the legitimacy of the contribution of the private sector at all educational levels, there is considerable recognition of the blocking of opportunity that educational marketisation can bring.

So this is not just a conference with bunting – though heaven knows there is no shortage of that around this lovely campus. This is indeed a festival.

And yet it is, to me at least, a fretful festival, in search of something to celebrate in fearful times.

In some cases, presenters and indeed delegates cannot resist advertorials in their presentations and questions. In that regard at least, this festival shares common ground with traditional conferences.

Still, there is, from speakers and delegates alike, a common conviction in the power of education. That indeed education is something worth being fretful about.

And, in a way, that in itself is something definitely worth celebrating.


Very interesting morning at the Festival. Beautiful setting and a much wider range of delegates than you would normally find at an education conference. The involvement of schools and universities, and focusing on themes that bridge the 14-18 with HE, makes the discussions much more interesting.

The debate session on Selection at 11 and at 18 was pretty one sided with the room decisively against selection and the two pro-selection speakers distancing themselves from current selection practices.

The panel discussion on curriculum barely covered content at all. However, we learned a lot about T-Levels and the lack of awareness in schools, the potentially overambitious timetable and the likely impact on university recruitment.

The session led by speakers from the Education Endowment Foundation highlighted the work of NFER and others in helping schools embrace research informed practice and avoiding ‘snake oil’ offerings. The story was told of one teacher who believed that merely ‘envisioning’ a very well behaved class would lead to a very well behaved class.

If only it were that simple.

And I think I’m starting to envision lunch.


Beautiful morning here in Buckinghamshire for the #HEFestival. First up will be @nickhillman chairing debate on the motion “This House believes that academic selection is wrong at 11 and still wrong at 18”. @miss_mcinerney speaks in favour with @JohnClaughton against. Thoughts?


So what questions do you suggest I put to @SamGyimah when he speaks to @HEFestival on Thursday morning? Fees? Gender pay gap? Free speech? TEF? REF? KEF? VC salaries? Brexit? Overseas students?


I will be writing a rolling blog here for the duration of the Festival of Higher Education. Things to bear in mind:

  1. There is a lot going on at the festival and I won’t catch everything
  2. I want the blog to be a chance to allow people who can’t attend to ask questions – so please do send me questions to ask of speakers
  3. The Festival offers a chance for competing ideas to get a hearing. There will be ideas we don’t like and don’t agree with. Civil disagreement is the order of the day.
  4. Feel free to ask me questions. I have a lamentably limited range of poor answers, but don’t let that deter you.
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