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SSAT National Conference – students’ views

SSAT National Conference – students’ views


Reading time: 8 minutes. Related programe: Student Leadership


A number of year 10 students attended SSAT’s National Conference at ICC, Birmingham in December. Here are some of the evaluations from students at Sir Christopher Hatton Academy, collated by their teacher Laura Murphy

Erin Cooper : what needs to change in order to progress

Spread over the course of two days, the conference focused on the theme of pure imagination. The event had intentions of celebrating imagination and creativity in its broadest sense, which not only did it achieve, but exceeded; it celebrated teachers and pupils, along with commending those trying to raise awareness for such struggles as the underfunding of schools, or the social injustice our society faces, for example.

Highlighting these topics, which are so often avoided in conversation, meant that during the main stage presentations, workshops, panel discussions and spotlight sessions, we were able to identify what needs to change in order to progress. It allowed an in-depth discussion on such questions as: what are practical solutions to close a variety of gaps in schools? How will we respond to the financial position of schools, both currently and in the future? Also, such questions as: how do we maintain a broad and balanced curriculum that values the expressive subjects, like drama, art, music and dance, which are so often neglected and pushed aside in schools across the country?

But, despite the warm welcomes, approachable business men and women, and the admirable honesty and rawness of CEOs, politicians, and student performances, I personally feel that from what I witnessed, the highlight of this conference was the main stage presentation ‘Imagine if it didn’t matter where you come from’ given by Rt Hon David Lammy, MP.

He brought attention to inequality amongst school children due to economic, cultural, or biological reasons, stating that there is a stronger divide for children of a black ethnicity, and that children with single parents face more pressure from school demands.

He suggested that in order for these to change, social justice must be promoted so society can acknowledge the areas that are victims of injustice. This technique could be presented in multiple ways such as lower breakfast club prices, so more parents can afford to give their child a substantial and healthy breakfast; or providing support and stability for children who seek help, whilst also focusing on the child’s background and local surroundings to understand why.

However, Lammy also recognised that none of the above is possible without better funding, more teaching assistants, which have been grievously cut in multiple schools, and reducing overwhelming class sizes. He believes that the government should tackle public school issues, as he is opposed to the £552 million that goes into private schooling yearly, resulting in an unbalanced economy.

Also, he thinks that teachers need to be celebrated far more than they are, because they as well as the children are under a great deal of pressure, and should be offered more support and better pay. Therefore, finishing off the conversation he said, “there needs to be a profound change” and, linking back to his first point regarding social injustice in schools: “excellence is found everywhere.”

So, in closing, I would like to highly praise this event, along with everyone who offered their opinion and spoke up and used their voice, as we often forget that others may not be able to speak up or fear judgement. But this event did the opposite; instead of trying to change others’ opinions, they simply offered a new perspective and outlook on controversial topics. I left the SSAT National Conference feeling privileged to be given such an eye-opening opportunity and level of responsibility, and I truly believe that other students would benefit in confidence and communication skills, as well as a better knowledge on politics and our society by attending events like these.

Tahmina Islam: not every person learns the same way

Imagine if it didn’t matter where you came from – Rt Hon David Lammy, MP

David Lammy addressed the various problems in communities that affect schools and their pupils, such as inequality and racism. He discussed the issues surrounding young people and how these may be an obstruction to their education. For example, domestic violence at home can have traumatic impact on a student’s learning at school. He also considered the wider subjects related to education, like employability, and linked these to problems in communities. If there was one thing to take from this session, it was that “not every young person learns the same way”.

Every Child, Every Chance, Every Day – Pennyman Primary Academy, Tees Valley Education

This session was purely based on closing the entitlement gap for children by meeting their basic needs and having an effective relationship of trust with parents. This helps pupils feel safe and protected by fully supporting children at home and school.

Just Like Us – Rainbow Ribbon Campaign

This session highlighted the importance of empowering LGBT+ young people. Many gay people feel terrified and have no confidence or sometimes feel uncontrollable. The Rainbow Ribbon Campaign and diversity week help close this gap for LGBT+ people. They also offer an online community place in which people can share and discuss these topics.

“Not every young person learns the same way” –Polarised education debates

This session discussed how to depolarise debates, so conflicts are avoided when debating topics that involve different opinions. The following steps that were introduced could be helpful to use in classrooms when debating.

  1. Look for something you have in common with each other.
  2. Treat everyone as an individual, respect their opinions.
  3. Practice perspective beliefs.

Football VS the gender gap

This session focused on working with boys who were disengaged with school but were passionate about football. Football could be used in many ways to help them re-engage. An example of this would be using football to help boys excel in reading. For example, rewarding with a football match for teams that have read the most books.

Kian Patel: the different ways in which schools, students and teachers can improve

Going to the SSAT national conference was an amazing experience where I learnt a lot about the future of education and the different ways in which schools, students and teachers can improve. The three main talks which resonated with me were about: football in schools, the future of education and the struggles of students (discussed in David Lammy’s session).

David Lammy spoke about the inequalities in school and wanted to make sure that everybody had the same opportunities no matter where they came from. He also compared the way students are selected to go to Cambridge University and to Harvard University. In Cambridge, a student’s financial background, upbringing and area where they are born and raised are not taken into account, whereas in Harvard, they are. This made me question which of these methods was fairer.

The main consequence of this great talk by Lammy was that it made me appreciate the upbringing I had and the great school I go to. As well as this session, another significant session for me was about the positive difference football can make in schools.

The difference in boys and girls who pass their GCSEs is around 9%; with 62.3% of boys passing in 2018 and 71.1% of girls. Many believe this substantial gap is due to many boys’ lack of interest in education. However, many of these boys have a keen interest in football, so this session argued that we should integrate football into schools, particularly for working class boys. The broad effect of this is that it would make these boys keener on education and make school more enjoyable for them. More specifically, teachers in my school began to think about ways to implement this in school; such as playing a football match as a prize for reading books.

The SSAT conference also showed me the future of education and what changes may soon be made to our education system.

Amanda Spielman spoke about the education system and what the new Ofsted changes will do. This was mostly about how teachers need to stop teaching students to do well in a test, but instead teach them the skills needed and help them in the subject as a whole. She stated that Ofsted hopes to change this and that it will make a huge difference to the education of students by changing how teachers teach. This was quite engaging as it was about the changes which will be made to my learning.

Overall, as well as the SSAT national conference teaching me the changes students and teachers can make to improve education and showing me the struggles which many students face; it was very enjoyable and widened my imagination.

Clive Agiam: daunting at first, but one of my best school trips

Along with five other students in my year, I was chosen to represent my school, Sir Christopher Hatton Academy, at the SSAT National Conference. I was absolutely amazed at the opportunity of seeing many notable names speak, excited to see the many different stands and the ideas that they had displayed at the conference as well.

However, when we arrived at the ICC, not only I but also my classmates were a bit overwhelmed by all of it at first. Due to the fact that we were the only secondary school there, it was a bit hard for us to fit into this highly professional environment. But once we settled into this whole new experience, I started to enjoy myself and every aspect of this conference, from the main stage speakers to the stands in the exhibition room and also the workshops taking place in the other halls. I loved every aspect of this conference.

Even though there were many other amazing features about this conference that I could look into, there was one project that caught my attention and that I think is amazing. This project, called Lexonik, is an innovative literacy programme that helps people (age 9 to adulthood) that have difficulty with literacy and vocabulary skills to learn, through enhancing an individual’s engagement, comprehension, confidence and success. This programme helps promote reading for knowledge, breaking down words to help them understand fluently and improve vocab by understanding the definition of it. It is really aimed at children that are finding it difficult to learn different words of the English language: this is what really caught my eye about this project. I know a few people in my year and even a few friends that are having trouble when it comes to vocab, reading or when they come across a complex word or definition. A programme like this would be very beneficial for them or other people that struggle with English, who can come from any background or any age. It will help improve their skills and will also boost their self-confidence when it comes to learning. On the main stage, I found this presentation very engaging and I was amazed at how much of an impact it made to the students that spoke about how much the programme helped them.

In conclusion, not only this project but the conference was an astonishing experience for me and easily one of the best school trips that I have been to.

Sir Christopher Hatton Academy’s year 10 students who attended the conference, left to right: Kian Patel, Clive Agiam, Niyam Patel, Simran Kanabar, Erin Cooper, Tahmina Islam

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