The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Spotlight on FestABLE

Few events successfully engage all those who can work together to improve outcomes for young people with SEND. I spoke to the organiser of one new festival with something for everyone.

FestABLE, the UK’s first National Festival of Specialist Learning, is taking place on Saturday 2 June 2018. It promises to be a vibrant celebration of the best in the field, drawing together professionals, learners and parents to look for solutions to the issues faced by children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

I caught up with one of the organisers, Barney Angliss (@AspieDeLaZouch), an independent SEND consultant, to find out more about this event.

FestABLE has been designed with young people and their parents at its heart. That must be a breath of fresh air for those who are used to perhaps struggling to be heard.

Barney: 'We have designed FestABLE to be attractive to parents. Everything about it has been planned so that parents meet face-to-face with professionals. Parents are often at the receiving end of advice and decisions about their children. This event is about making the sharing of information an exchange rather than a handout.

FestABLE is anchored in what parents say they want and need

'Parents and learners will be at the centre of this event, through their attendance in the sessions and their presence on, and leadership of, panels and workshops. Parents are also giving closing keynotes and learners who have been through specialist education are also leading sessions. It is fully inclusive from beginning to end.'

Has FestABLE grown from a particular need?

'Originally, we were thinking about ways to celebrate fifty years of the National Star College. National Star has a fully accessible campus near Cheltenham and has been working to ensure that people with disabilities can realise their potential.

'Three years ago I attended an "unconference" organised by the Education Rights Alliance. The event was about sharing ideas and experiences rather than listening to lectures. Participants sat in a circle and we talked about the issues that arose. We swapped questions and anyone could contribute ideas.

'When I was thinking about ways in which National Star could celebrate their fiftieth anniversary I had this event in my mind, and FestABLE grew from that.'

FestABLE is unique in that it is designed to ensure participation by parents. How will this happen on the day? 

'Parents will be shaping the whole event by their presence in the sessions and the contribution they make to discussions and panels. They will be there on an equal footing to professionals and they don’t often get that opportunity. National Star employs me for a few days each month to talk to parents, so FestABLE is absolutely anchored in what they say they want and need.

'We have also kept the price low to attract parents. Every speaker is attending the event free of charge, giving their time and expertise without cost. That means the price we charge is as low as possible.'

Why now for FestABLE?

'Not only is it the fiftieth anniversary of the National Star College, it is also:

'There are many reasons for a focus on, and celebration of, specialist learning right now.'

This is clearly going to be fruitful for parents, learners and specialists, but is anyone welcome?

'FestABLE is open for all, and if you can’t attend we will be making as much as possible available through social media and sharing any slides. We also plan to record some sessions to be used at other events.'

Having an event that places parents and learners at the heart is bound to be popular. Does FestABLE have a future beyond 2018?

'There is talk already of what might happen in the future. There’s certainly potential for FestABLE to be biennial if there is financial support. And we want to make sure that we are discussing big, relevant issues.

'I don’t think this is a one-off. There’s a desire to talk about what will work better for our children and how we can make difficult things possible. This is a great opportunity to talk about what’s challenging us and find paths ahead for all the learners and their families that we are working with.'

FestABLE (@FestableUK) is hosted by National Star and takes place on Saturday 2 June 2018. Find out more here.

More from Optimus

Why is co-production so powerful? Learning from research

'On the back foot': a parent's view on choosing the right school for SEND

Spotlight on Northern Rocks

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