Downing College Teachers’ Event 2015
On Saturday 14th November Downing College hosted a Teachers’ Networking Event, inviting all alumni who have pursued a career in the education sector and current undergraduates interested in these issues to come together and share ideas of best practice.
The first session engaged with the idea of ‘bridging the gap’, a concept proposed by panelists Chris Lowe (who joined Downing in 1958) and Ed Vainker (a former School and College Liaison Officer at Downing who started his studies in 1999) both of whom were instrumental in the organisation of this event. This session sought to identify the difficulties students face as they progress through the various stages of the education system, having to adapt to new academic and personal challenges. Discussion centred largely on the idea of ‘resilience’ and how teachers can provide experiences both within and outside of the classroom that confer the life skills needed to cope with the jump from GCSEs, to A-Levels, or university level work. Fostering independence and self-reliance were seen as particularly important skills. Naturally, this discussion evolved to encompass the issue of time and budget constraints: with teachers already being pulled in multiple directions by their existing responsibilities, how realistic is it to set-up new, long term initiatives given the resources available?
Marcus Tomalin, the Senior Admissions Tutor at Downing, was keen to stress that universities need to ‘dovetail’ with schools and colleges in order to assist these efforts. Delegates were interested in the types of support the University provides to first year students academically, where the various study skills lectures and pastoral support networks were cited. Toward the end of the session, the Discover Downing ‘Resources’ page was demonstrated as one of the many ways the College tries to assist teachers and students – though we often say that we like to see students engage in super-curricular exploration, we felt we needed to support these efforts more actively. By providing this material in an easily searchable way, we hope that we have saved teachers and students valuable time.
The afternoon was an opportunity to broaden this discussion through a number of talks on the idea of ‘global perspectives’ in education, given by Ali McWhirter (2007) and Andrew Johnson (1992). The speakers focused on the types of experiences that could be offered to students through both the curriculum and as separate enrichment activities. For example, the International Baccalaureate (IB) was cited as a qualification that brings global perspectives to the fore, impressing the importance of this idea through module options like Global Politics. These talks were then followed by representatives from Teach First and the Cambridge University Education Faculty, who spoke about the need to target the best potential teachers, train them well, and send them to schools where they can really make a difference.
There was an acknowledgement that this is a particularly volatile time in educational history given incoming qualification reform and policy changes. Although this may bring more challenges, it was also recognised that such moments encourage practitioners to come together, share knowledge, and support collective endeavours. Ultimately, collaboration between key stakeholders in the sector was cited as a primary way to overcome any ‘gaps’ or barriers that we face as students and educators.
Downing College’s Vice-Master Dr Paul Millett, who gave the opening remarks at the event, said the following:
“This was a fruitful and enjoyable occasion. Although the broad aim of the day was that teachers should meet and talk with each other, it was an excellent opportunity for us to engage with colleagues across a range of types of primary and secondary education. We benefitted from the opportunity – a first for Downing – to learn directly of their aspirations on behalf of their students, and the very real difficulties facing them. What was striking was the spread of locations and experiences of Downing alumni within the system of secondary education. We look forward to potentially hosting this event again in the future.”