This year’s Annual Chinese Teaching Conference is taking place on 23rd and 24th June at the UCL Institute of Central London. The Conference is the IOE Confucius Institute’s biggest annual event and the team here spend the entire year carefully considering the themes, ideas and logistics of it. What better way to find out more about the Conference this year, than to speak to the IOE Confucius Institute Director, Katharine Carruthers.
- Hello Katharine. The 10th Anniversary of the UCL IOE Confucius Institute (IOE CI) is being celebrated as part of the Conference this year. How has the IOE CI evolved over those 10 years?
The UCL IOE Confucius Institute (IOE CI) has clearly grown a lot. Ten years ago we started as a Confucius Institute at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT). At that stage we already had a Chinese network of schools that were supported by our Annual Chinese Conference, a reasonable sized eforum and offered regular CPD events for teachers of Chinese. This gave us a foundation on which to build a Confucius Institute focussing solely on developing the provision of Chinese in schools across the country. We started off with 5 Confucius Classrooms and we now have 45 so that’s a very healthy increase. However, it’s not just about developing IOE Confucius Classrooms but developing the wider network of schools teaching Chinese and this is possible because we’ve had the IOE Confucius Classrooms leading the system and they’ve worked with us to support the development of Chinese over a much broader area.
Headteacher engagement has grown; what we offer has increased in terms of the training of Chinese teachers both at the PGCE level (since we became part of the Institute of Education) and also with the broad range of CPD events we run. Many other areas of work have grown too. For instance, our summer camps in China; they began in our first year as a Confucius Institute way back in 2007 and have grown substantially with over 300 participants taking part every year. The quality and depth of Chinese teaching in schools across the country is much greater than before. There’s still lots of work to do, but we are very much on a positive trajectory.
- How is the 10th Anniversary being celebrated?
As well as being celebrated through this year’s conference, the 10th Anniversary is being celebrated by a visit from the President of our partner university in China, Peking University with focus specifically on the opening of our new Confucius Institute building in Woburn Square. We have always been in 15 Woburn Square, occupying the top two floors but now the whole building has been restored for us. This means we will have specific areas not just for office space but for meetings relating to Chinese teaching and learning and most importantly for teacher development activities including both PGCE sessions and CPD days, of which we run so many. We are very excited about all aspects of our work and what greater way to celebrate our 10th Anniversary than to open this building at the same time.
- The Conference theme for 2017 is ‘Expanding Excellence: Raising Expectation, Increasing Fluency’. Can you give us some background to why this has been chosen as the Conference theme?
This has been the first year of the rollout of the Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP), so we wanted the Conference theme to build on the idea of excellence and the improvement of quality. We are keen to work together to raise expectation in all schools teaching Chinese; increasing fluency is a key motivator for our learners.
The expectation for students taking GCSE in all languages is being raised. The first new Chinese GCSE exam will be in 2019 and teaching will begin this September for the first year 10 cohort starting exam preparation. It is clear that students thrive in learning languages if they are able to manipulate the language themselves. We don’t want them just to be able to mimic; we also want them to be able to create and use the language themselves. So it is a theme that is predicated on the MEP but is also very much a focus for the wider network. If we want to mainstream Chinese, we need to try to implement the conference theme and what better way to go forward than to consider these ideas as a group in the two days of the Conference this year.
- For many experienced teachers, the Conference is not only an integral part of their professional development, but also a great way to get together socially every year. What would you say to the new teachers of Chinese about the benefits of the Annual Chinese Teaching Conference?
I would say come along for sure, the benefits are very many. Firstly, with the wide range of plenaries and workshops, you will go away with a whole heap of ideas which you can think about over the summer. One of the main reasons we hold the conference in June is so you have the time to think about next year and come along to pick up some really good ideas. You can follow up any questions you may have about what you have heard on the eforum; the workshops and plenaries have ideas to help you think and plan. For new teachers it is always good to get all the help you can and there is help at hand outside the workshops too, because for two days you are there together as a group of teachers teaching Chinese across the UK, so why not go talk to anybody during the workshop breaks and go to look at the exhibition during lunchtime? Find out what’s going on, use it as a networking experience! Also use it a social networking experience. If you think you’ve got problems dealing with something, chances are there will be others who do too, so take this opportunity to make friends so that you’ve got teachers that you can really trust with specific queries that are bothering you. With this network you don’t need to be alone. So those are the benefits, plus I haven’t ever met a teacher of Chinese who hasn’t had a good time; everyone really enjoys the Conference dinner because it’s a great way to socialise, meet new friends and reconnect with old ones.