ME + conference for F.E. practitioners of English and maths

Posted by rsl11 at Apr 08, 2021 10:37 AM |
A look back at the ME + conference for F.E. practitioners of English and maths on 12 February 2021, by Elizabeth Draper

This conference (the fourth collaborative event of this kind but the first ‘virtual’) was a welcome and invigorating event. Phil Cook (Principal and CEO, Education Training Collective, chair of the ME+Group) stated in his welcome that

the critical enabling factor is the practitioner…the teaching and learning methodologies they deploy, the learning they stimulate, and the relationships that they build are what really matter. The resilience and determination of maths and English practitioners (who don’t give up easily, who adapt, innovate, strategise, plan and dig-in) is the power that this conference seeks to harness.


And it surely did. Now, more than ever, there have been and continue to be major professional and personal shifts required and creatively, resourcefully, addressed by English and maths teachers in Further Education, since March 2020 when the world changed because of Covid19. This conference provided a choice of relevant sessions:

  • Subject-focussed sessions looking at supporting and engaging learners ‘packed with takeaway strategies’ (Suzanne Coulson- Functional English; Matt Bromley GCSE English; Julia Smith and Craig Barton, FS and GCSE maths: Engaging and supporting  learners in a virtual classroom).
  • Proven digital methods to use in the virtual ‘remote-learning’  classroom  (Russell Stannard: Effective assessment and feedback in a virtual world).
  • Techniques and discussion regarding the how to and why in the essential route to  ‘self-care’ and  the blurring impact of work/home boundaries in this ‘wfh’ living (Claire-Marie Boggiano: Resilience and wellbeing techniques to change of pace and environment)

By the conference end there was a definite ‘+’ added because of inspiring shared approaches to teaching, learning, assessment and how to ‘manage’ it all– digitally, ideas-wise, and emotionally. Opportunities have been seized and this event is timely and important in showing the value of sharing expertise and experience.

Catherine Sezen, Senior Policy Manager from the Association of Colleges, presented the keynote address and talked of ‘policy landscape’ and ‘future landscape’; the vexed issues around the GCSE resit policy; review of qualifications; T-levels; the ‘condition of funding’ that unfortunately drives the current mandatory GCSE English provision. She mentioned discussions around alternatives for young people outside of GCSE/Functional Skills and how ‘support packages’ from the Government’s 16-18 tuition fund have been quite successful; she pointed out the need for F.E. colleges to be given more support in tackling ‘the skills gap’, the AOC are thankfully putting questions to Government on this.

English - focussed sessions

English sessions attended were instructive and helpful. Suzanne Coulson’s (TLA coach at Newcastle College and English teacher ) in particular. She commented on the usefulness of days like this as we all have different narratives, use different exam boards with different student cohorts. Strong interactive elements were used, e.g. mentimeter, to prompt discussion. Issues discussed included: differentiation on- line; giving individual feedback in timely ways; varying levels of IT skills; how teachers are learning so much more about  I.T.;  the reality that students AND teachers are supporting each other. Matt Bromley (Bromley Education) presented a whistle-stop tour in response to GCSE English, addressing: Assessment - how do we find out this has been learned - best way? Has all this made sense to students? Pedagogy - how do we translate this into teaching? 

There was informed working-expertise in Suzanne Coulson’s session, about 'our new best friend technology’. We find ourselves truly embedding technology and its functionality like never before:

The change that changes everything but.. 'Teach before tech'- teaching has to come before everything. Technology is a means to an end.


Suzanne Coulson helpfully emphasised ‘things to keep in mind’ :-

  1. Fundamentals don't change
  2. Practice and pedagogy - the ‘art’ of teaching stays the same; lots of conversations amongst teachers in current times suggest that it’s almost as though we are all NQTs again in these times of experiment and discovery
  3. Relationships - with each other and students – are critical
  4. Keep up appearances, an imperative that can be a pressure when w.f.h.
  5. Practice what you preach, model on-line behaviour e.g. switch mute on /off
  6. Know your students, get into their narrative. What are they facing, do they have a work- space at home, what devices do they have, do they have pen and paper? The teacher may be the  only social interaction that the students have outside of their household, even more important to know their personal circumstances as much as possible.


Top Tech Tips

  1. Accessing technology: for those who don’t have access to smart phones/laptops: Xbox & PlayStation can access Teams or Zoom, with plug in keyboards and ‘mice’ sent to them.
  2. Text size: Students can be excluded by something as simple but important as text size. The minimum text font size should be 24; 32 is the most ‘workable’ generally.
  3. Revision of resources - it takes a lot of work to make it look easy, involve learners in this process. is a helpful resource (sets automatically marked assignments, monitors students' progress in remote learning context).
  4. Reading: Audio recordings of the teacher reading the text to students, they can listen beforehand- a ‘flip learning’opportunity; if it is uploaded to you -tube it reduces the amount of data students have to use if down-loading.
  5. Speaking & listening - video / use (free, accessible video discussion experience) highly commended resource; breakout rooms on Teams, Google, Zoom can all be really effective.
  6. Writing: class notebook in Teams or google docs; pen and paper - photo work and upload.
  7. Idea/discussion/energising generators: - for polls, Padlet , Google Jamboard ,

More technology top tips were given by from Russell Stannard (educational technologist and founder of - free website that shows how teachers can use technology):

  1. Screen cast technology - video creation tools that help you create and communicate through video. ‘Simple and intuitive tools to get the job done easily.’ Get students to record answers ( homework task) - flipped classroom approach, teachers can record feedback for students.
  2. Padlet tool for getting students engaged - free tool that has evolved over the years. What is the hardest thing about teaching on- line ? ‘Not knowing if students are following me : can't see faces, feel energy in the room’. With padlet, students can comment on each other's work, click on the modify button to open up options of what you can do to get students to respond in different ways.
  3. Wordwall assessment tool, click on ‘create activity’ - loads of options, images quizzes, word search, anagrams, rank order – all give instant feedback and immediate tracker of student engagement and progress.
  4. Mentimeter assessment tool, no limit to free tools, loads of activities: word cloud, multiple choice (flip classroom) ranking.

Resilience and wellbeing techniques to change pace and environment (Claire -Marie Boggiano, specialises in change management).This was an instructive session about ‘bouncing forwards’ and gave us time and space to think about ‘Resilience’. She asked us to reflect on the following:

  1. What are some of the resilience wellbeing challenges you face at personal or team/ organisational level ?
  2. What does change mean ?

Change is everywhere. We need to acknowledge that during disruptive change, as in Covid19 times, she proposed that there will be an ‘ initial performance gap’– as we all need process-time to re-adjust; we are having to work with change at an extraordinary pace with continuously changing circumstances in our working and home lives: this has enormous impact that we all need time to work through, to acknowledge to each other and support ourselves in the process. Her session spoke of resilience practices such as:  physical exercise, sleep, mindfulness to zone out , reappraisal, savouring the moment, gratitude for what is working, keeping socially connected, helping others build resilience and being your own best friend.

Nothing is normal right now, be realistic in what you can do in any one day.


The conference ended with a closing address from Zoe Lewis, the CEO and Principal of Middlesbrough College. There was a definite ‘+’ added because of the many inspiring shared approaches to teaching, learning, assessment and how to ‘manage’ it all– digitally, ideas-wise, and emotionally. Opportunities have been seized and this event was timely and important in showing the value of sharing expertise and experience.

Elizabeth Draper

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