Page 11 - Independent Schools Magazine
P. 11

HMC Annual Conference
  Celebrating difference
Jane Lunnon, Head of Wimbledon High School, reports on last month’s HMC Conference in Belfast...
“There is nothing in the universe without exception that is not interesting if looked at from the right angle. Especially people. Everyone is interesting. Everyone has a story. Every conversation
is a chance to learn something completely new...”. John Lloyd’s words quoted verbatim from his HMC presentation, might have been chosen to re ect this year’s conference.
Full as it was of the wise, the wonderful, the witty and the occasionally whimsical. Who knew, for example, that the centre of the earth smells
faintly of raspberries or that it was twenty-one years into the invention of the game of netball, before anyone thought of cutting a hole in the basket? Ephemera? Useless information? Random and inconsequential facts? Not
if you are prepared to think differently, stay open-minded and delight in the richness of learning and curiosity at all times. That was certainly John Lloyd’s position presented with a persuasive mixture of wit and intense, urgent conviction.
And in some ways, this is a neat summary of this year’s HMC gathering in Belfast which, as ever, saw Heads from across the globe come together to catch up with old friends, make some new ones and engage with this year’s conference theme: ‘celebrating difference’. An aim admirably achieved in the diversity and variety of the conference line-up: from Jonathan Powell to John Lloyd, from Nicola Morgan to Alice McCullogh, the speakers challenged, inspired and engaged us all in equal measure. Hats off to a Keith Budge for his care and commitment in putting together so  ne a programme and to Chris King for stepping in so adroitly to lead it at the last minute.
Notwithstanding this powerful speaker line-up, diversity was perhaps best re ected in the numerous workshops and
various panel line-ups of Heads from so many of our schools, offering advice, sharing ideas and experiences and celebrating just what makes their schools
so exciting and so distinctive. Whether it was researchers in residence, or innovation centres, Infomatics courses or new Sixth Form centres with real Central Park benches in them, over and over again the great creativity, imagination and energy of our sector, in all its various and diverse forms, was richly in evidence. And it was, as it always is, deeply inspiring to see.
As was the splendid setting. This year’s conference was held in the Victorian grandeur of the Europa Hotel in Belfast (incidentally opposite one of the most
ornate and unspoilt of 1820s pubs, The Crown Liquor Hotel: all carved-original mahogany booths, etched-glass and gas lamps...well worth a visit). And many of us enjoyed the tour of the city and a walk around the brilliant Titanic museum in the heart of the docks. As ever, there was much solidarity and fun
and chat in-between sessions. And the annual Conference dinner, at the splendidly situated Culloden Hotel, complete
with Irish dancers and folk tunes, provided us all with the perfect opportunity to share our differences over a pint of Guinness and some unignorable beef.
So, were there any icebergs at the conference? Was anything lurking below the surface ready to fell the great and splendid HMC educational powerhouses? Well, clearly all are aware of
the challenges confronting all schools in the C21st. Meeting the
needs of increasingly vulnerable young people, whose mental health and well-being seems to require more and more inventive and robust defence strategies in the face of multifarious pressures and an interminable social media onslaught, was certainly one frequent topic over tea. As was the impact of ever-increasing regulation: inspection, data protection, new coursework demands... the list went on, with us newish Heads anxious and a degree of schadenfreude from the old hands who had seen it all before.
More energisingly, I kept
coming across discussions in
the breaks about the various partnership initiatives and innovations schools have adopted. There was talk about the increasingly challenging political and  nancial landscape for independent schools but those presenting partnership activities were not driven by need or expedience but so clearly by delight in the educational joy of such ventures. We learnt that the ISSP in the city of York for example, runs masterclasses in Latin and Astronomy. Astronomy! How marvellous is that? All Heads I spoke to, were acutely aware not only of the importance of state school partnerships
but of the great richness and
learning advantages that stem from them. And there were so many examples of great ideas in this area - a real celebration of educational vision and leadership!
Above all though, this year’s conference, in celebrating difference, provided an opportunity for HMC itself to look at its own diversity. All regions discussed the issue : touching on gender, racial,
social and sexual diversity
and considering how well the organisation and its leadership and processes best facilitates
a true range of representation. Clearly, there is a way to go in this area and that was re ected in the plenary discussion on this topic at the AGM. But things
are afoot. The problem has been recognised and acknowledged and it feels like there is a will and an energy and a real desire to make progress on this. And to do so quickly. It takes a tug boat or two to turn a liner around, but it can be done and perhaps this year’s HMC conference,
with its willingness and drive to celebrate difference across the board, will steer us well clear of some of the lurking ice-bergs ahead. Let’s hope so.
And meanwhile, the centre of the earth still smells of raspberries.
Independent Schools Magazine 11

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