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St Peter's 13-18

1 October 2021

I returned on Wednesday evening from a highly enjoyable and interesting HMC Conference. For those who do not know, HMC (which stands for the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference) is a membership organisation for Heads of the leading independent schools in the UK and internationally. Being independent gives us significant flexibility in how we operate and the choices we make about the best form of education in our schools but being part of a large organisation brings many benefits, not least in sharing ideas and developments and working with and lobbying government which is an area where we have been particularly active since the pandemic began, especially in the area of GCSE and A Level assessment where, without our engagement, expertise and prodding, there would have been significantly less progress made even though it remains a source of deep frustration that the Department for Education and Ofqual have yet to put forward concrete plans for next summer. Fifth Form and Upper Sixth – do not worry as last summer and the summer before showed that we can and will make sure that you are given the best possible opportunities and support.

There were a variety of interesting seminars. On the first afternoon we heard from Peter Tatchell, who was instrumental in developing LGBTQ+ rights from the 1970s onwards, about changing cultures. Baroness Helena Morrissey, who founded the 30% Club to increase representation of women on the Boards of the FTSE Top 300 companies, spoke about opportunities made available in the great reset as we emerge from the pandemic and Chanel Contos from Australia spoke about setting up the precursor to Everyone’s Invited in Sydney back in 2015. Some challenging and thought-provoking sessions indeed and particularly relevant to developments in the UK. 

On Tuesday I attended a fascinating session on Technology which incorporated an element of futurology as to where tech and education are heading.  Some predictions for 2030 include:

  • 50% of jobs will be automated, many by Artificial Intelligence
  • 80% of people will still be in the workforce (retirement dates are going to be later than now)
  • 90% of jobs will require the use of tech
  • 65% of people will be doing jobs which don’t currently exist

There was an emphasis on the rise of humans rather than the rise of machines with reference to science fiction presenting an inaccurate view that AI and so forth represents a battle of humans versus machines rather than humans with machine and the need for tech to increase human skills and capabilities. Along with that was a nudge to watch out for quantum computing as the next big game changer. Interestingly though, the rise of tech shows that it is not just about new technology on its own but how it can enhance vital human skills such as creativity, empathy and accountability.

Similar themes emerged in a session on reforming assessment session. This was prompted by the experience of the last couple of years raising timely questions about how pupils in the UK are assessed for qualifications and the disjunct between the skills needed to perform well at GCSE and A Level and the skills needed to perform in the world of work. Again, it came back to the acquisition of skills and attributes with research from the Confederation of British Industry showing that businesses look for character, knowledge and skills with employers looking for applicants who show passion, enthusiasm and zest.

All of which resonates strongly with our view that your time at school has to be full of fun and opportunities which equip you with the skills, aptitudes, characteristics and interests for the world ahead as well as getting your best grades.

Going back to the importance of the human factor, it was great to have the headspace to attend some interesting sessions but just as important was catching up with friends and colleagues, sharing experiences, ideas and just as importantly having fellowship and fun.  There should probably be a collective noun for a group of Heads – a pontification perhaps although I will leave that you your creative imaginations – but one thing that may surprise you is that there was a lot of laughter and good humour too.

I also had a new experience, eating a peculiarly Welsh food called Lava Bread for breakfast.  At the last HMC Conference in St Andrew’s I enjoyed having haggis for breakfast everyday and I have no particular foods that I dislike, with the exception of trifle which the devil’s own recipe, but I am unlikely to select it in future.  Made from seaweed it is nether lava or bread and has potential applications as a highly waterproof adhesive but it is good to try new things.

So – it was certainly good to be away for a stimulating conference but better still to be back home and with the school. It has been a busy first four weeks and I am sure you all looking forward to the weekend.  Have a great exeat – and make the most of the opportunity for rest, recreation, fun and fellowship.