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Liberating Leaders Conference

Bedales Headmaster and headteacher of King Edward VI school, spent a day in each others’ shoes. The purpose was for the two heads – from the independent and state sectors respectively – to see whether the gulf between their two sectors was as great as we are sometimes led to believe.

In the event, they quickly found common ground through their respective schools’ insistence on distinctiveness, their interests in developing relationships with foreign schools and, related to this, a commitment to the development of leadership in their students.

This meeting led to 275 delegates from independent and state schools gathering at Bedales for an event with a difference. Hosted by Bedales in partnership with King Edward VI School and the TES, the ‘Liberating Leaders’ conference sought to give current and aspiring school leaders the tools and knowledge to be creative in how they run a school and the confidence to maintain their individuality. There were also pupil leadership workshops.


The subject of leadership was interrogated from many angles. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector and Head of Ofsted, spoke of the need for maverick teachers with a hint of menace (more of which he suggested were to be found in the independent sector), whilst Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering at Oakland University, talked about her own journey from maths and science underachiever to creator of the world’s largest MOOC (Massive Online Open Course).

Danielle Harlan founder and CEO at the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential, spoke movingly of the need for leaders to be empathetic and give others the licence to lead, and Bill Lucas of the University of Winchester explained the tenets of liberating Expansive Education. Delegates also heard from international education consultant Rob Walden on strategies for developing leadership and Lord Jim Knight, former Minister of State for Education and now chief education adviser to TES Global.

Importantly, delegates heard voices from the educational coalface. Mike Fairclough, Head teacher at West Rise Junior School in East Sussex, enthralled those present with stories of making a neighbouring bronze age site the setting for schooling for children from the local council estate. Geoff Barton then made an impassioned speech in which he spoke out against a state school inspection regime that he believed stifled the bold and maverick tendencies that Sir Michael had earlier extolled. Keith Budge told the story of how Bedales Schools had gone about introducing its own alternative to GCSEs.

Conferences on leadership in education are regular occurrences; however, leadership conferences that not only include students but give them centre stage are harder to find. Student participants attended their own leadership workshops, and in the final session two each from Bedales and King Edward VI joined their head teachers in responding to questions posted by delegates and received via Twitter.  

Geoff Barton commented: "It made sense that any project should have students at its heart. That was what was so distinctive about our joint leadership conference. ‘Liberating Leaders’ was about leadership. Its participants, its speakers, its audience was an invigorating mix of school leaders, business leaders and student leaders. In pulling down any phoney barricades between age groups and experience, we found that all participants learnt more."

Keith Budge commented: “Speakers, teachers and students all took the time to tell me how exciting they had found the day, and how involving students had put an entirely new slant on the subject of leadership. This event happened because of the time Geoff and I spent together. I’m not sure you would call it a partnership – we talked, an idea occurred, and we went for it. Schools and their staff have much to give each other, and I believe there is great merit in keeping it simple and being light on your feet. I’m looking forward to us doing more together.” 


More details of the conference and copies of presentations are available here.


Feedback was gathered from delegates via a post-event survey which will be used to feed into planning of future events.

Pupil Involvement

100 pupils from state and independent schools attended the conference, ranging from Year 10 - 13.


This was a single event