We were thrilled recently to welcome teacher coordinators and school leaders from our sustained-contact Pre-GCSE Inspire Programme in Ealing and Harrow to the Inspire Teachers’ Conference, which took place at St John’s on 30th September.

The first major in-person event held on the Inspire Programme since the start of the pandemic, this also marked the first opportunity that the teacher coordinators who deliver the programme in schools were able to meet with one another, and with St John’s academics and staff, since the programme launched in late 2019. The teacher coordinators have been leading the pilot Pre-GCSE Programme in their schools over the past two years, running fortnightly after-school Inspire Clubs with their pupils and helping us to create new content for the programme, in addition to facilitating the virtual activities we ran during the extended periods of lockdown.

Kate_Nation.JPGA packed programme for the day saw a range of sessions designed to assist teachers on the Inspire Programme, as well as providing them with high-quality, expert professional development to support them with their teaching more broadly. We were honoured to be joined by two keynote speakers: St John’s very own Professor Kate Nation, who addressed teachers on the psychology of reading; and tech philosopher, author and St John’s alumnus Dr Tom Chatfield, who demonstrated how to encourage young people (and adults!) to think critically in the 21st century. Meanwhile, Dr Sam Holmes, CEO of Causeway Education, led an interactive session on ‘Discussing the Unknown’, all about helping pupils to decode and discuss unseen stimuli in the classroom, helping prepare them for some of the higher-end thinking skills necessary when thinking about progression to higher education.

The delegates also heard from Marianne Talbot, the External Evaluator of the Inspire Programme, who provided an update on her interim findings of the Pre-GCSE Pilot Programme as it enters its final year; and closing remarks were delivered by Dr Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions & Outreach for the University of Oxford, who highlighted to the teachers and school leaders in attendance some of the key trends and upcoming developments in the field of widening participation and university admissions. Proceedings were bookended by Dr Sandra Campbell, Fellow for Access & Admissions, and by Professor Carolyne Larrington, Vice-President (Academic) at St John’s.

In addition to the professional development offered by the various conference sessions, we were also keen that after 18 months of lockdowns, with limited opportunities for professional networking, teachers had an opportunity to meet their peers on the programme and to share experiences and best-practice with one another. A two-course lunch in Hall also gave attendees the chance to network with St John’s own academics, with 14 of our Fellows attending from across a wide range of subjects, giving both teachers and academics alike the opportunity to share valuable insights into experiences in schools and universities respectively. Several members of our ever-dedicated Steering Committee were also in attendance throughout the day, lending their invaluable support to the programme and to the teacher coordinators.

Tom_Chatfieldjpg Dr Tom Chatfield presents to the Inspire Teachers Conference

The Teacher Conference was a fantastic way to kick off the year, and we can’t wait to get underway with the third and final year of the pilot programme in Ealing and Harrow, with teacher coordinators now having resumed running their after-school clubs in all 24 participating schools. In the summer, following the GCSE exam period, we hope to be able to welcome all pupils on the programme to Oxford, so that all participants will have had the opportunity to visit St John’s in person – something that the pandemic has prevented us from doing up until now. The programme will then be capped by a Summer School in August, with a selection of pupils from each school joining in-person for a residential event in St John’s, and remaining pupils attending a virtual summer school on Inspire Digital.