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By Tim Coulson, Chief Executive of Unity Schools Partnership

The New Year for the Unity Schools Partnership started in the best possible way when we welcomed around 700 staff members to our annual conference at Thomas Gainsborough School.

In the past, we have held the conference away from our schools and organised two big events – one for our secondary schools and one for our hub of primary schools.

The itinerary of previous years have also followed a set pattern, where the chief executive would introduce and welcome attendees, there would be a guest speakers and a list of pre-determined sessions.

This year, we wanted to do things a little different.

For most training days, the timetable is set by whoever is in charge. This can be a little tiresome and is further amplified by the fact that our conference is on the first day back after Christmas for many.

So to help prevent people from suffering from post-festive lethargy, we wanted to give them complete choice over how their day was shaped.

We organised 130 sessions, ranging from research to practical to even the chance to sing in a choir.

I was also privileged to chair a few debates around whether the academy system was broken and what Brexit might mean for academies going forward.

Two of the sessions – led by two of our headteachers Karen Sheargold and David Maguire – attracted a fantastic 100-plus people. They were based on the themes of helping young people with empathy and effective learning behaviours respectively.

We wanted to bring all our schools together, across the age ranges, and give staff choice. As professionals, they know what sessions will benefit them most – whether that’s challenges over marking or how to run outdoor expeditions.

The end result?

The early feedback we have received has been really positive. I think it encouraged people to be more active participants.

Walking around the conference, you couldn’t help but think you were part of something quite big. In between the sessions, there was a real buzz in the marvellous TGS building.

For a few attendees, it was actually their first day and first experience of working for Unity Schools Partnership and I think they were blown away by the support on offer.

I must commend Andy Samways and his project team who did a fantastic job organising the conference.

And also the site team and everyone at our host school at Thomas Gainsborough School who did everything possible to create such a slick event. From car parking to coffees, IT to lunch, they helped put on an immaculate event.

It was a great way to start 2019.