Inclusion and Inspiration: Education for Social Justice Conference Day
Each year the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE) hosts a conference offering workshops for PGCE students and early career teacher alumni from members of the Institute on their area of expertise. This year’s conference theme was ‘Inclusion and Inspiration: Education for Social Justice’, and aimed to help delegates learn the best ways of making their classroom as diverse, safe and elevating for students as possible. We talked to Rebecca Phillips (UoM Primary PGCE Co-director) about this year’s event and what goes into planning the conference each year.
Who is the conference for?
The conference is for students completing a PGCE, School Direct PGCE or Teach First PGCE as well as alumni. It’s for both primary and secondary educators and gives the students a great opportunity to meet each other and learn from each other’s experiences. This year we had around 400 people attend!
We started running the conference because we wanted to make equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and education for social justice a prominent feature of our Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes, and we also wanted to create cross-phase opportunities for trainee teachers and early career teachers to come together to discuss issues of inclusion and social justice in their contexts, regardless of the age range they teach. The conference enables them to learn from each other.
This conference is all about social justice – what does this mean and why is it important?
We believe that it is important for our cohorts of UoM trainee teachers to understand the challenges and opportunities in the different local communities in Greater Manchester in which they will teach, both on practice and throughout their careers. The conference helps them to identify issues relating to social justice which affect children and their families, and equips them with the knowledge and skills to be able to make a difference to children’s lives through the manner in which they approach their teaching and educational practices in their future careers. Each year the conference takes a different focus on social justice issues and EDI, in order to reflect current policies and priorities in education.
What was the structure of the event?
The day started with the first keynote speaker; these tend to be more academic focussed, linking theory to practice. This is followed by individual workshops which delegates select from a wide range of options. These sessions are run by a combination of academics, teachers, consultants and people with specialisms and are generally about teaching practice. The day ends with the second and final keynote which is about the children we teach in our local school communities. You can take a look at the list of sessions here.
How do you decide on the keynote speakers?
The conference committee discusses possible themes for keynotes linked to EDI issues and we consult our tutor teams. We invite MIE colleagues whose recent research reflects current issues – previous keynotes have included Prof Neil Humphrey’s mental health research; Prof Pam Qualter’s loneliness project research in collaboration with the BBC; Dr Michael Wigelsworth’s research about the social and emotional aspects of learning; Dr Carl Emery’s Local Matters research to understand issues facing local communities in Greater Manchester; and Dr Sarah MacQuarrie’s work about understanding how children learn and recognising the neuromyths surrounding this area of research. We’ve also invited influential national figures who promote social justice through their work (e.g. Lemn Sissay and this year’s keynote speaker Jeffrey Boakye) and local headteachers to talk about inclusive education in their schools (e.g. how one school community is working on decolonising their curriculum for their primary and secondary pupils; primary and secondary headteachers talking about inclusive education in schools with a majority of pupils (and their families) who speak English as an additional language and with high numbers of pupils who are international new arrivals).
In our second keynotes, focusing on the children we teach in our communities, we have included performance poetry from primary pupils; secondary pupils presenting on green education and eco issues; explored primary and secondary pupils’ responses to S.F. Said’s books Varjak Paw and Phoenix (themes of EDI in both books) in collaboration with S.F Said who was a keynote speaker that year; and welcomed the Bridge College choir (a signing choir) and their teachers – one of whom also talked about their ethos of inclusion as part of a keynote. This year the final keynote was a panel of 3 PGCE alumni at different stages of their careers talking about what inclusion means to them; this included personal stories linked to their lives and educational practices.
How do the workshop sessions work?
A theme, idea, concept or question is presented and then the attendees discuss the topic. The sessions have to adapt to the number of people in attendance and will run even if attendance is low as those people chose to attend. Smaller sessions are sometimes more intimate and less didactic than big sessions. For the discussions, everyone has something to offer and you can learn from everyone’s experience.
With so many great events how do people choose what they want to go to?
We advise them to attend sessions that interest them or sessions with topics they know nothing about, or a topic they know lots about and can add experience to the discussion. If they’re struggling to choose they can always come back as alumni and go to a different session next year as we have very similar topics each year.
Did you do anything new this year?
It wasn’t new this year, but last year we had to put the conference online because of the pandemic and we’re going to keep it this way for the foreseeable. It’s been easier to accommodate the number of people who want to attend sessions without having to book rooms and the logistics of organising all that. We can also get people attending who wouldn’t normally be able to because they can’t make it to Manchester. We had an online feedback form at the end of events and the feedback has been very positive.
What are the key learnings about running a conference?
Communication is very important! Alumni are the hardest to get to come to the event, so you have to keep reminding them it’s happening with regular communication through all channels and networks. We also couldn’t run this conference without the whole PGCE team being involved. Without collaboration and engagement from staff and students within the University and also with our Partnership the conference would not be a success.
What do you think the value of the conference is?
It brings our ITE community together to gain a deeper and broader understanding of EDI in education and in society in general and hopefully inspires teachers at all stages of their careers to change their future practice to ensure it is always committed to promoting social justice.
If you’d like to find out more about the event contact Rebecca: firstname.lastname@example.org.