A vibrant conference programme, designed to inspire and inform. The programme links with the project themes for 22/23.

Early Years Conference | 30 June 2023

Reading and Writing in EYFS – Getting it right for our youngest children.

Pupils need to develop a lifelong love of reading to access the curriculum which will also underpin all learning in the future. The Ofsted School Inspection framework has a heavy emphasis on prioritising reading and a “Sharp focus on ensuring that younger children and those at early stages of reading gain phonics knowledge and language comprehension necessary to read (so that it) gives them the foundations for future learning.”

In addition to developing phonics, developing communication means pupils need to be able to acquire the skill of being able to express themselves through writing. Developing writing ensures that pupils are “ready for their next stage of learning”.

The conference will explore these themes and provide settings with practical examples that will support schools to not only effectively plan for their provision in their environments but will also ensure that pupils will be successful learners in the future.

Firm Foundations for Phonics with Ruth Swailes

Everyone wants to get children reading, so what’s the best way for us to achieve this? The increased focus on the teaching of phonics in Early Years has led to lots of questions and anxiety about best practice, so throughout the morning Ruth will focus on developing a suitable reading curriculum for our youngest children

Session 1

In this session Ruth will:

  • Share and explore research into what young children need to be effective learners
  • Look at what is needed to make good progress over time
  • Get children ready to be able to read and write effectively in key stage one and beyond
  • Explore some of the issues young children face after lockdown
  • Looks at ways in which schools might respond to meet the needs of these unique learners.

Session 2

Following on from this Ruth will host a practical workshop which will:

  • Support teachers to consider how they can effectively plan and develop their provision
  • Best meet the needs of the children
  • Provide children with the skills they need to be successful learners
  • Share practical examples from real classrooms
  • Help teachers to plan for small changes to make a big difference.

Ruth Swailes
Ruth was the winner of the ‘Nursery World Trainer of the Year’ award in 2021. She has almost 30 years’ experience in primary education, over 20 of them in senior leadership roles including primary headship. Ruth has worked as a School Improvement Advisor, Ofsted inspector, Early Years consultant and moderator in several Local Authorities, she has advised on DFE accredited phonics schemes and is the lead author, curriculum consultant and trainer on the Oxford University Press International Early Years curriculum. She has recently written their curriculum for 2-3-year-olds.

Ruth has written for The Early Years Blog | Famly, Early Years Educator | Early Years Educator, Nursery World, Yorkshire Bylines and TES, she was awarded Nursery World Trainer of the Year 2021 and named as an “Edruptor”, one of the most influential people in International Education in 2022, she is the co-editor of the best-selling book, “Early Childhood Theories Today” with Aaron Bradbury.


Becoming a writer in leaps and bounds with Julie Cigman

Julie will lead sessions around writing, specifically enabling young children to develop a writer’s voice. She will look at ways to incorporate writing into EYFS in a playful but meaningful way.

Session 1
This will include:

  • What do we mean by early writing
  • How and when children first start to become writers
  • Boys and why they tend to do less well than girls in writing
  • Sharing examples from writing project schools: auditing their provision and what they found; making an action plan, and the actions they took; evaluations.

Session 2

In this session Julie will explore The 4 Ps of writing: how you can make your writing environment EPIC. Julie will explore some examples of what this looks like in practice and the role of the adult in implementing these ideas and supporting all children to become writers.

The session will consider:

  • Continuous Provision
  • Planting ideas
  • Provocations for learning

Julie Cigman
Julie is an independent Early Years consultant and author. She has taught in maintained Nursery Schools in Oxford and throughout the Primary age range. She spent a number of years as Early Years lead for a PGCE SCITT based at Oxford Brookes University before working as an advisory teacher with Oxfordshire County Council. In this later role, she took a countywide lead on Equalities and Literacy.

She now works as an independent Early Years consultant and author. She has written well-received books on supporting boys’ learning and development and early writing, and she created and has led early writing projects in over 300 schools and Early Years settings.

Ruth Swailes

Julie Cigman

Conference Schedule:

9.00am: Arrive/coffee

9.30am to 10.30am: Ruth Swailes – Presentation

10.30am to 11.00am: Coffee 

11.00am to 12.00pm: Ruth Swailes – Workshop

12.00pm to 12.45pm: Lunch/networking

1.00pm to 2.00pm: Julie Cigman – Presentation

2.00pm to 2.15pm: Coffee

2.15pm to 3.15pm: Julie Cigman – Workshop

3.15pm to 3.30pm: Reflection and Close 

Leadership Conference | 10 March 2023

Join us for an opportunity for reflection, growth, and networking

Viv Grant – Cultivating Brave Leadership: What This Means for School Leaders Today

Viv’s Keynote will draw on the lessons she has learnt as an Executive Coach for Headteachers. Viv will share insights into the personal qualities that school leaders need to cultivate in pursuit of leadership styles that can be characterised as brave, authentic and courageous. Her talk will illustrate how a deeper connection with self and one’s sense of vocational purpose can build resilience and help leaders stay connected to what matters most in good school leadership.


The keynote will cover ways in which school leaders can:

  • Increase their levels of emotional resilience
  • Maintain a deep connection with their core values and ability to make decisions that are more aligned to who they are and who they want to be
  • Heighten their levels of self-awareness, self-management and their ability to cope more effectively with the stresses of the role
  • Maximise feelings of professional satisfaction and fulfilment
  • Find ways for re-discovering their joy and passion for the profession
Workshop: Cultivating Brave Leadership, It’s an Inside Job!

This workshop will aim to help school leaders to:

  • Discern what drives them, how this affects levels of resilience and how to deal with heightened levels of stress
  • Identify the core characteristics of typical driver behaviours and how to utilise strengths within each to increase levels of personal effectiveness.
  • Determine personal action points to facilitate greater authenticity and courage in the leadership role.

Viv Grant’s book, “Staying A Head” is considered a seminal work in this area. Recognised as an expert in the field, she has contributed to various books and periodicals on the subject. As an expert commentator, her contributions have also been featured in The Guardian, London Live, Sky News, Radio Four, Woman’s Hour and the World at One.

Jolyon Morris – Building Organisational Resilience: The Key to Success

Our personal resilience as leaders is linked with the resilience of our organisations.

Schools are complex organisations with many dimensions and moving parts that can go wrong or behave in unexpected ways. Their context is one of high levels of demand, accountability, and uncertainty. When our organisations are less reliable, our personal resilience can be put under strain and the organisation is less able to achieve the outputs that it exists to achieve. This creates risk to leadership effectiveness and can undermine our resilience.

One of the key elements of developing our own resilience is to be wise to the extrinsic and intrinsic risks and seek to manage those well. Building in organisational resilience will reduce this risk and improve effectiveness.  

We will explore how we can apply the research on ‘High Reliability Organisations’ to the work of the school.

  • How can we ensure that things that should happen, do happen?
  • How can we focus our energies on the key things that make the difference for all the children in the school, whilst avoiding distractions?
  • How can we avoid risk, errors, mistakes, poor outcomes, and failures?
  • What would this mean in terms of how we work in the school?

We will look at the research on high reliability organisations [HRO’s] and apply it with the aim of exploring the current context and what could be done differently.

Jolyon Morris is an organisational consultant and psychoanalytic psychotherapist. He has provided consultation to organisations, leaders and managers for 20 + years and prior to that held senior leadership roles in manufacturing and commercial businesses.

Each member school has TWO free places!


This conference is for VNET members only.

Viv Grant

Conference Schedule:

8.15am: Arrive/coffee

8.45am: Welcome

9.00am to 10.30am: Viv Grant – Keynote

10.30am to 10.50am: Coffee 

11.00am to 12.30pm: Viv Grant – Workshop

12.30pm to 1.15pm: Lunch/networking

1.15pm to 1.20pm: Introduction

1.20pm to 3.20pm: Jolyon Morris

3.30pm: Reflection and Close 

Getting it right in the classroom | 4 November 2022

Keynote 1: Developing Teaching Excellence – Mark Burns

Mark will introduce some research informed approaches to develop teaching excellence. Building upon more than a decade of proven track record in supporting teacher development, Mark will introduce ways to deepen dialogue, develop strategies to ensure feedback is impactful, and establish a shared language for teaching excellence.

The project will go on to support busy leaders to build impactful routines and habits in teams to develop the understanding about, and impact of, teaching over time. It will also unpick the common barriers that inhibit growth and provide strategies to overcome them.

Keynote 2: Happiness and Success in school: an injection of positive psychology! – Miriam Akhtar MAPP

What is positive psychology? Why is it important? Why is it relevant to schools? Leading positive psychologist, Miriam Akhtar MAPP, will join us (via the big screen!) to explore how and why positive psychology can make a positive impact in our schools. There is a virtuous relationship between happiness and success which is easily lost amongst the day-to-day challenges. By engaging with positive psychology we can strengthen this relationship and improve outcomes for the whole school community.

In this interactive session Miriam will challenge our thinking, help us to seek out strengths, overcome some of the barriers to happiness and share practices from the positive psychology toolkit.


Workshop 1 – Evaluating the intent of a curriculum workshop – Emma Adcock

In this hands-on workshop, VNET’s Principal Consultant, Emma Adcock will lead participants through the process of reviewing the INTENT of either a primary or a secondary school’s curriculum.

The session will provide participants with the opportunity to evaluate:

  • The school’s contextual information
  • The curriculum intent
  • A long-term plan for one subject
  • A detailed curriculum overview for one subject

Not only will participants will be provided with question stems to consider when evaluating the intent of ‘Not a Lot Primary’ or ‘Suprema High School’, but they will also write a short summary of the school’s curriculum and will provide some helpful steps the school might take to improve.

Workshop 2: Behaving Together – Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson’s book “Behaving Together in the Classroom’ has just been nominated for the NASEN best publication 2022 Award. Her work on behaviour in the classroom is strongly connected to inclusion and enabling all children to be supported to get the best out of their time in the classroom. 

This interactive workshop will enable participants to explore:

  • Behaviour as an innate form of communication
  • Emotional health and wellbeing
  • The network of relationships within a school’s community

Workshop 3: Talking patterns: Managing conversations in the classroom 

Drew Howard will lead this interactive session exploring techniques to increase learning impact through managing conversations in the classroom. Using this approach positively impacts on pupils’ ability to recall knowledge, their ability to reason better and importantly, to enjoy their learning more. 

In the session delegates will:

  • Experience how this approach can support retrieval practice
  • Explore the difference between group-work and collaborative work 
  • Practice using a set of content-free structures that help promote thinking, discussion and comprehension

Meet your speakers:

Miriam Akhtar

Miriam Akhtar MAPP is a positive psychologist, wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker, trainer and educator. She is one of 100 global experts invited to contribute to The World Book of Happiness and The World Book of Hope, given to world leaders with a request to put wellbeing on their national agenda.She is the author of 3 positive psychology books – The Little Book of Happiness, Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression and What is Post-traumatic Growth.

Miriam was one of the first positive psychologists in Europe, graduating with distinction from the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP), a course established by Prof Martin Seligman to make the world a happier place.

Mark Burns

Mark spent 12 years as a full-time teacher. Over the last fourteen years, he’s co-written three best-selling books including Teaching Backwards and the award winning The Learning Imperative. Mark has a proven track record of supporting teaching and leadership development in schools across the UK and abroad through the learning programmes he designs and facilitates. His work was recognised as Gold Award winner at Learning Performance Institute Awards 2021 for People Development Programme of the Year.

Emma Adcock

Emma has just under twenty years of experience in the education sector, ten years of which she has spent working as an English Consultant for Norfolk Schools. She is a former head teacher, system leader and advanced skills teacher. She regularly provides additional leadership capacity for schools. This additional leadership has previously included: acting head positions, part-time assistant head roles and she has worked across schools as a teaching and learning coach to support Quality First Teaching. Emma is also an experienced trainer who regularly provides training for VNET schools on the following: curriculum design, subject leadership, Reading, Writing, Spelling and the explicit teaching of vocabulary.

Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson is an education consultant with varied roles including, author, Head of Behaviour and Inclusion for a London Borough, school improvement partner and keynote speaker. She has as a teacher and senior leader in education for twenty years including mainstream schools, Pupil Referral Units and Alternative Provision – spanning both primary and secondary. With a keen interest in pupil voice she uses this to inform her practice and work.

This conference is for VNET members only. Each member school has TWO free places!


Conference Schedule:

8.15am: Arrive/coffee

8.45am: Welcome

9.00am to 10.30am: Keynote 1

10.30am to 10.50am: Coffee

11.00am to 12.15pm: Workshops

12.15pm to 12.55pm: Lunch

1.00pm to 2.00pm: Keynote 2

2.15pm to 3.30pm: Workshops

3.45pm to 4.15pm: Tea/cake and Panel discussion, ‘What next for our Norfolk schools?’.

Mark Burns

Mariam Akhtar

Sarah Johnson

Sign up for our newsletter

and keep up-to-date with all news from VNET CIC. You can unsubscribe at any time.