On Thursday 30th November, I was privileged to attend the Evaluate-Ed & Opogo National Conference, along with other members of the Moxi Recruitment and EdStart Schools teams.

With the theme of ‘Getting Ready for 2024’, this high-profile event took place at Manchester’s iconic Ethiad Stadium, and brought the UK’s education community together to share insights, network and learn more about the Evaluate-Ed platform. Throughout the course of the day, I was able to meet with so many like-minded people within the industry, share our common experiences and explore best practice, as well as identifying potential partnerships for the future.

Amongst the great and the good present on the day, were some of the sector’s most distinguished and influential keynote speakers; all with richly diverse and hugely inspirational stories to tell, beginning with Evaluate-Ed Chairman and Founder, Howard Jackson.

Evaluate-Ed – self-evaluation made simple

Evaluate-Ed is an online tool that helps schools and academies alike streamline their self-evaluation and improvement planning. Helping leaders to identify key areas of strength, and pinpoint elements of their provision that require further development and improvement. Howard, who benefits from over four decades of experience and expertise in the education sector, shared some really useful tips and strong guidance surrounding planning within a school setting, which included ensuring that the overarching vision of that school is adequately supported by its budget.

As well as founding Evaluate-Ed, Howard also set up the successful educational finance software company HCSS Education, now part of the Access Group, as well as Hub4Leaders (TheSchoolBus) which supplies risk-free solutions to schools and organisations around compliance and workload challenges. Set up in 2013, this is now part of the National Education Group.

Prior to establishing his own successful companies, Howard’s education background lay in internal auditing, as well as serving as both a Commercial Finance Director and a School Business Manager. A Fellow of the Institute of School Business Leadership, Howard has also worked extensively with the DfE (Department for Education), publishing a Financial Planning document and leading a major training programme on its behalf.

Sitting there at the Ethiad last Thursday, I was so impressed by Howard’s knowledge and his enthusiasm, which has led to him creating a simple, yet practical and hugely effective way for schools and academies to measure their progress, shape their goals and plan for their futures.

Diverse Educators – celebrating diversity, equality and inclusion in schools

The next keynote speaker on the day was Leadership Development Consultant, Author and Co-Founder of Diverse Educators, Hannah Wilson. Hannah is a hugely experienced and diligent education professional who enjoyed a 20-year career in schools teaching English, Drama and Media Studies, as well as fulfilling numerous leadership roles including Head of Department, Head of Year and Deputy Executive Headteacher, prior to her establishing Diverse Educators.

Diverse Educators is a company committed to escalating the agenda surrounding Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) in UK schools, helping them to implement strategies aimed at promoting DEI, and providing full training support for staff in this vital and growing area.

Hannah has a real presence as a speaker, and her knowledge of – and passion for DEI in the workplace – is evident and almost tangible. She gave us a fantastic insight into Diversity, Equality and Inclusion work within schools, sharing her own experiences in education and exploring how important it is for everyone to feel like they truly belong in their workplace.

In discussing what proactive (versus reactive) inclusion looks like in schools, she also helped us to re-evaluate what we mean by power, privilege and psychological safety, as well as talking about awareness of our own identities, and respect for the ‘lived experiences’ of others. Listening to Hannah on the day, it became very clear that she is a woman who leads by example, and someone who is passionate about ensuring that schools are welcoming and inclusive spaces for all pupils, staff and parents/carers. As an audience, we were encouraged to take a very open and honest view of how we can create a culture of belonging for all, as well as recognising the potential barriers to this. All in all, it was truly inspiring and thought-provoking stuff.

A wealth of experience in leadership and school inspection

The next speaker to take centre stage at the Evaluate-Ed & Opogo National Conference was Dympna Woods, an Executive Headteacher at EdStart Schools (our partner organisation). Dympna benefits from a wealth of expertise in both teaching and school leadership, having worked in diverse settings including some of the most disadvantaged communities within the North West of England. Her experience also encompasses the Voluntary Aided sector, publicly-funded schools and academies.

She has also worked as an Educational Consultant, and recently been appointed as a School Improvement Partner for one of Greater Manchester’s Local Authorities. In addition, Dympna regularly participates in school inspections across the North West of England, as part of her role as an Ofsted Inspector.

Dympna is somebody I have known for only a short time since her appointment to an Executive Headteacher role at EdStart Schools in September of this year, but I’ve grown to admire her immensely. Her commitment; her drive; her knowledge and her approachability are all infectious. She’s a leading authority in her field, as well as being someone who’s never too busy to offer sound advice and guidance to her colleagues. A consummate professional in all aspects, Dympna gave a fascinating account of her own education background and journey to date, and left us with a quote that has really resonated with me ever since: “the answers for you are in the mirror.”

Leading the way to Healthy Leadership

The next leadership professional to address us was Philip Dyer. Philip’s natural business flair and entrepreneurial spirit has been honed over a career spanning 30 years across a broad range of sectors, with a particular focus on owner-managed businesses; often referred to as the “backbone of the British economy”. A well-respected Business Mentor and Coach, Philip is the Founder of Healthy Leaders – an organisation focused on the importance of personal and team wellbeing to a company’s operational and commercial success.

Healthy Leaders is a specialist in wellbeing coaching, concentrating on the people inside of a business, identifying their barriers to personal growth and development, and how to overcome them through increased levels of confidence, self-awareness and communication. Its methods are consistently proven to increase productivity and raise personal and team performance. As Philip says: “if you feel good, you perform better, be that at home or work.” In addition to this, he also runs the Healthy Leaders Academy which is an on-demand, digital proposition accessible to multiple users.

Philip – who was the first Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Central Lancashire, and a former Honorary Teaching Fellow at the Lancaster University Management School – shared some great insights into the mechanics of personal and group wellbeing. He said we were all “extraordinary” and gave us some invaluable tips to help us improve our mental and physical health, in order to become better professionals serving the UK’s education sector.

During his talk, we were invited to explore the concept of upgrading our beliefs, how we can consistently perform at our best and make excellence a habit in the workplace. Immensely motivating, inspiring stuff, and real food for thought from someone who is, clearly, a world authority in his field.

Kindness Matters in schools

John Magee (AKA the Kindness Coach) was the penultimate speaker appearing at the Evaluate-Ed & Opogo National Conference. The Founder of Kindness Matters and an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Coach and Mentor to education leaders, John is also the author of ‘The Happy Tank’, a book that examines the reasons why happiness and positive psychology is so vital to schools, and has been on an ongoing mission to role-model and cultivate kindness in the classroom since 2010

He talked to us about his own story; overcoming some really tough personal issues including a battle against bankruptcy as a small businessman following 2008’s credit crunch, the breakdown of his marriage and the ensuing depression from which he suffered. Nearly two decades on, he is now  recognised as a leading keynote speaker on kindness and wellbeing in schools, and has developed AQA-accredited PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) courses to assist with insets and pupil interventions.

The positivity in the room whilst John was speaking was palpable, and he came across as someone who had come to an unwanted crossroads in his life, due to circumstances beyond his control, and decided to become the ‘victor’, rather than the ‘victim’. Using those adverse experiences to create something immensely positive and inspiring to future generations.

Standing tall and leading by example

The last speaker of the day, Andy Reid MBE, shared his life-changing experiences with us and cast a whole new light on the phrase we all use from time to time: “a bad day at work”.

In 2009, then a Corporal in the British Army, Andy stepped on a Taliban-improvised explosive device whilst on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Injured so badly that it was initially thought he wouldn’t survive, he defied the odds and, as a triple amputee, has gone on to undertake some seriously challenging money-raising activities, in order to give something back to the associations that helped him and his family through difficult times.

Andy’s ‘lived experiences’ make him uniquely qualified to understand the pressures and stresses of the people in our communities he primarily wishes to help. The founder of the Standing Tall Foundation, he has built his structured help programmes on the same steely determination that saw him fight back so courageously from some extremely dark days, and offers the added ability to intervene on a personal and individual level. As he says, “these are real people with real needs, not just a set of statistics and I aim to use my Foundation to help meet those needs.”

It’s a testament to his attitude in overcoming such adversity, that Andy has refused to allow the severity of his injuries stop him from approaching his life and his work with a consistently positive mindset. This really shone through in his speaking; his incredible story has had a profound effect on me which, I’m sure, will remain for many years to come. His perspective on life, work and any challenges put in front of him was wholly inspiring, and he delivered a powerful and inspirational presentation centred on self-belief, that was nothing short of awesome.

The Moxi Recruitment and EdStart Schools teams came away from the Evaluate-Ed & Opogo National Conference genuinely inspired, and equipped with a whole host of new ideas and recommendations which we’ll be sharing with you in the very near future. So, watch this space!

For more information about Moxi Recruitment and our extensive range of recruitment and training services, call us today on 0300 303 4414, or send an email to info@moxi-recruitment.co.uk