In conversation with…

Hello readers, welcome to another blog post in the “in conversation with” series, this time with CEO of The Shine Trust Clare Gilhooly.

After being involved with the Let Teachers Shine competition for a number of years, it was great to get the opportunity to have an in depth conversation with Clare about the process – and what she thinks it does for the Teaching profession.

I started by asking her what she thought the best thing about the competition was. Not surprisingly, we both agreed that it was a great source of positive news about teaching and about education in general; when there was often so much negative publicity from the media. We seem to be very quick to either criticise the practices, or those defining education direction. Also interesting was the sheer number of people stories, and the demonstration of sheer commitment – which is commendable in itself when you consider the challenges. Clare commented that actually reviewing all the entries was often quite a humbling process – seeing the enthusiasm and ideas coming from “the coal face”. It serves as a great reminder that perhaps the best and most inspiring ideas about the direction education should take may come from here.

There are no shortage of great ideas coming from the entrants; with over 100 so far. Last year, a separate “London Focus” was run – which brought in nearly 200 applications (some of which also came via the “normal route”). However, Clare was keen to point out that the success measure of the competition was not the volume of applications – but instead the quality of them. Previous winners are testament to that; which also leads into why the competition exists. Its about giving a great idea the time and support it needs to grow; to take that bit of blue sky thinking and evolve it. Clare commented that this is for her, one of the most satisfying parts of the process. Its not just limited to watching the idea grow either, but also about watching the “person” grow as well; and the journey they take with their idea.

We then moved on to what makes a good teacher. Undoubtedly, it requires commitment; and enthusiasm – as I think any job does. To work in education also you also need to believe that you can make a difference. Understanding the difference between education and teaching is a key factor too – education extends teaching beyond the classroom, and our Teachers have a much wider role to play in our children’s upbringing than we often give them credit for. You also need a healthy dose of realism though; changes, imposition and continual reform are inevitable parts of a modern education system. Understanding and accepting this is also an important factor.

What advice would you give the winners?

As we race towards the time when we find out who has been a winner this year, I asked Clare what advice she would give the winners. We also took that one stage further, as Shine were running a “catch-up day” with last years winners a few days later. The same question was posed to them – and a selection are pictured.


The most popular response was “time” – take whatever you think it will take you and double, triple it! With the applications themselves, there was also some great advice from Clare. The project needs to not just be about your idea – it is also about your school, your SLT, head teacher, and the whole school community. Its also about a pilot in year 1; and the how it could be replicated and extended in the longer term. This could also mean that as well as looking for spark in the person as well as the idea; and whether that person could become an ambassador for the project rather than the project needing them hands on the whole time – which is quite an interesting concept!

What do you think is next for STEM?

Robotics seems to consistently be in the news as the next big thing at the moment – and Gavin (previous winner) has had great success with his project, but what’s next? The key to the success is that it’s not just gimmicks in the classroom as is often feared with something “new” in technology. The same has to be true of what ever follows. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is likely to be involved in the next developments in some form; as the technology continues to evolve. Technology that can in some way learn and adapt its response to the situation presented has great potential – particularly when considering differentiated learners. Augmented and virtual reality technology has seem huge advances in the past 12 months; with the technology being more widely available now to consumers – and becoming embedded in culture though apps such as Pokemon and appearing in theme parks.

This starts to lean towards new education concepts such as blended learning – where no one tool, technology or technique is used. The key in all of these will be whether these can be shared across the curriculum, across schools and wider; and whether they are backed up by a clear curriculum.

What does the relationship with Capita mean for the competition

I closed with perhaps a slightly complicated question – and where Capita fit. Actually, the answer was quite simple. Its all about partnerships – and making use of those with the skills rather than reinventing the wheel. Capita – being the Uks largest MIS system have the greatest reach into schools; as well as having the resources. This is not only in terms of the practical support needed to shortlist/interview the entrants – but also for the specialist support, and additional technological and industry knowledge. Capita also have the marketing power to provide a showcase and platform for winners; such as BETT and with various PR outlets.

So – hopefully, that has given food for thought for some readers out there – whether you should apply or not. Yours could be the next big idea; and we could see you on stage at the SIMS Annual Conference and at BETT in the future.

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