Setting the Educational Agenda

8 May 2024

In this blog post, Mr Godfrey (Deputy Head) gives some details about what we can expect from this year’s much-anticipated Academic Conference at Downe House.

On Thursday 13 June, Downe House will welcome a range of leading influential educationalists to our campus near Newbury for a very special 2024 Academic Conference on the theme of Maximising Pupils’ Potential 

The combination of Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s longest-serving Chief Inspector, Lisa Kerr, who has been appointed Principal of George Watson’s College in Edinburgh from August 2024, and Jane Boardman, who has been pro-actively involved in talent management and culture initiatives at M&C Saatchi Group, will set the tone for a highly stimulating, topical and thought-provoking conference. 

All three keynote speakers will not shy away from putting forward strong viewpoints about what schools and government leaders need to do to ensure future generations remain competitive in the modern workplace. 

As Lisa Kerr stated recently: “Downe House’s Conference is an excellent opportunity to reflect on how society is evolving and how educators can and should adapt to help our students succeed.” 

Only last week, Amanda Spielman, who is His Majesty’s longest-serving chief inspector of schools, emphasised that any effective regulator such as Ofsted is bound occasionally to antagonise and disappoint those whom it regulates. 

Speaking to the Difficult Women podcast recently, she said “Politicians especially, I find, are just desperate for there to be a perfect world in which everyone can be happy, and it can’t be done – there are choices that have to be made.” 

She continued: “Are we in a world where it’s impossible to give a tough message?… I think we’ve got to get to a place where people can discuss explicitly, how do we best handle these situations? 

I am delighted to be speaking at Downe House’s Conference.
I look forward to talking about how we make sure children leave school ready to make the most of their lives.
– Amanda Spielman

Jane Boardman, OBE will bring a fascinating perspective from the corporate sector. She will reflect on the challenges employers are encountering when employing young people, many of whom have a very different set of skills, expectations, values and aspirations to those of the previous generation. 

Lisa Kerr, who becomes Principal of the UK’s largest independent school in September 2024, will have several key messages to put across to our delegates. She will reflect on what the educational institutions in England and Scotland can learn from each other. Lisa secured her current position of Principal of Gordonstoun without ever having taught a lesson – so, few people are as well qualified to bring a fresh perspective into the profession! 

We are also thrilled to have an exciting line up of other senior educators and business leaders (listed below) who will run a series of breakout sessions during the event. 

Will Goldsmith, Head of Bedales, will argue that most public exams are no longer fit for purpose and that other schools can and should follow his school’s lead by reforming the secondary curriculum and offering alternatives to GCSEs. 

Daisy Christodoulou, a leading light on the role of technology in education, will navigate us through some of the most taxing issues facing our changing educational landscape, including: What if artificial intelligence turns out to be overhyped? What if it has more pitfalls than promise for education? How will we reduce workload, improve attainment and transform education without it? And how will we cope with the new wave of AI plagiarism? 

Professor Cassie Wilson from the University of Bath will argue that conventional undergraduate degrees are still fit for purpose, despite an increasingly sceptical student body who are seeking value for money from the surging tuition fees. She will explain how, in her experience, schools can best prepare their students to make the most out of their years as an undergraduate as today’s universities. 

Jonathan Mitchell is a former deputy headteacher and is now Deputy Director of Future Skills and Innovation at IfATE. So he is uniquely well placed to navigate us through degree apprenticeships which are becoming an increasingly attractive HE option. UCAS projects that there could be up to a million higher education applicants in a single year in 2030, up from almost three quarters of a million today. This huge increase will inevitably result in school leavers seeking alternatives to a conventional university degree, and apprenticeships are most likely set to be a highly attractive alternative pathway.

Chloe Combi is a trusted authority on the mindset of Gen-Z and Gen-A and will give a fascinating insight into current and emerging trends and consider how we can tackle the ‘new’ challenges presented by the cost-of-living crisis, neurodiversity, mental health, resilience and intergenerational skill-sharing and compatibility. Read more about Chloe’s work in our recent blog post.  

We believe that Downe House’s Academic Conference has the most exciting, insightful and topical line up of speakers of any educational event this year. Don’t miss out: book your place now! 

Mattew Godfrey smiles at camera


Mr Matt Godfrey



Click here to book your place at Downe House’s 2024 Academic Conference! 

Read more of our Deputy Head's blog posts

Book your tickets | Academic Conference – Maximising Pupils’ Potential | Thursday 13 June 2024
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