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Helsinki Learning Festival is coming in 2014

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It’s ON! Helsinki Learning Festival 2014; be part of a global learning event!

When? Friday 11th & Saturday 12th April 2014

What? A world-class education event- A festival in the true sense

Where? Finlandia Talo, Central Helsinki

Who?  1700 Teachers, educators, academics, policy makers, ministers and education businesses from across the globe

Why? Because it’s time for a game-changing international education event

How? Let us worry about that.. :)

Suklaa are very excited to be teaming up with the Finnish Institute in London to design and organise the first ever Helsinki Learning Festival.

Our venue, Finlandia Talo holds 1700- so we’re thinking BIG! The festival is aimed at everyone interested in education: teachers, academics, policy makers, education businesses, parents and more. We are currently working to develop partnerships, engage speakers, contributors and to design a festival that is AMAZING- content rich, inspiring, practical and fun.  We have to tell you we’ve got a pretty exciting line up penciled so far! (More details will be released soon. And we wouldn’t be Suklaa without some serious surprises!)

Why Helsinki? Finland is an exciting place educationally.  With it’s excellent results and unique education system the country is inundated with ‘educational tourists’, visitors who are keen to experience Finland’s successful education system first-hand.  We know that people are already flocking to Finland from all over the world- but as all good teachers know learning should not be one-sided and a key aim of our festival is to explore innovation and best practice in teaching and learning globally.  What can educators from the world teach each other?

The festival will explore education’s key issues, debates, challenges, themes and successes. How can we work together to share and create education that fits our world today? Helsinki Learning Festival will be participant-driven and practical.  Finlandia Talo’s beautiful iconic space offers brilliant flexibility- we will have inspiring keynote speakers in the huge 1700 seater auditorium, breakouts, practical workshops, smaller debates and panel discussions, networking, entertainment, teach meets, hackathons, pop-up events, festival food (and drink!) and more.

We’ll update you soon as the festival develops.  But- Save the Date! Friday 11th and Saturday 12th April. This is an event not to be missed.




We all deserve a comfy chair

Twice in the last month we’ve been found in airport lounges, seeking out the free wifi, whilst Darina waves her passport and sings “mini break”. “It’s work” I keep reminding her. The thing is, when you love what you do, it doesn’t really feel like work. So last week’s “mini break” was a visit to VS Furniture in Germany, to source kit for Blue Sky Classrooms.

For Blue Sky, we’re delighted that we’ve now teamed up with two experts in classroom design and IT solutions. The very impressive Gareth Long from The Learning Crowd, and the inspirational Hannah Jones from Connecting Learning.  Both Gareth and Hannah bring brilliant perspectives to the partnership not least because they’re both ex head teachers.

Gareth, Darina and I headed to the headquarters of VS Furniture in Tauberbischofsheim. We had a great and enlightening time. We only had time to walk through one of their factories, which was over a kilometre in length and largely operated by robots. Pretty amazing to see. German efficiency it really was! The VS showroom is like a private Habitat and full of things that you’d wish to kit out your dream classrooms with. VS site their core values as quality, sustainability and ergonomy. They are particularly passionate about chairs. Children need to be correctly supported and comfortable – it improves concentration, it’s important for bone development, it matters. Every child deserves a decent seat. VS offer eight different chair sizes and a staggering number of options. VS also have an onsite museum of classroom furniture, which was splendidly curated and greatened our understanding of how classroom furniture design has evolved. We had the absolute pleasure to spend time with the owner of VS, Dr Thomas Mueller. Dr Mueller shared our interest in pedagogy and the use of classroom space and we had some interesting discussions about the shifts new technology has brought to classroom design. I was inspired to meet a business person who is clearly so passionate about teaching and learning.

Ultimately, we came away with a sense that for our Blue Sky Classrooms we must find a happy medium that combines ergonomic values with affordability. Do any of us really want our children spending 25 hours a week sitting on a cheap, inflexible plastic chair? Yet more often than not it’s price alone that contributes to decisions on current classroom furniture. The Blue Sky team are hoping to tackle this issue head on. Now let’s see what we can do.

Firma-Geschichte-1998 vs_62673_10 photo 


Helsinki Learning Festival

photo 2Designing Successful Learning Together

Claudia and I are just back from a whistle-stop-tour in Helsinki.We were there to further scope out and develop our plans for Helsinki Learning Festival 2014.

The idea came into fruition after multiple meetings with the Finnish Institute in London to develop international education programmes focusing on sharing best practice in global education. It was at the end of 2012 when we had organised London Festival of Education and the Finnish Institute had organised Open Knowledge Festival we knew that the time was right to set our ambitions on a large education event in Finland.

Finland, a relatively sparsely populated country, constantly has it’s numbers boosted by droves of international ‘education tourists’ who flock to discover the secrets of Finland’s edu-successes. Finland can indeed be extremely proud of their educational system which is based on trust, autonomy and respect of their ‘highly educated’ teachers. Check out this article tweeted by Sir Ken Robinson only yesterday which features an interview with Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility and author of the book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

photo 1Sahlberg also points out that whilst many people are keen to learn from Finland that it’s paramount that those within Finland are also looking out and learning from and with their global colleagues. (We’ve heard this notion paraphrased again and again via multiple sources.) It was this idea as well as the successes of our respective festivals that meant we and the Finnish Institute were very keen to develop an international learning event that happens within Finland, for Finnish educators but also for teachers from across the world.

We want to design an amazing professional development opportunity for teachers who can be inspired by brilliant keynote speakers, take part in workshops, lead sessions, network with and learn from their peers in a relaxed informal environment. For the festival goers to be entertained, to debate, to challenge and to collaborate.

photo 5But! First thing’s first, we had to ensure that a learning festival was of genuine interest to those within Finland. To do this we organised a ‘roundtable’ event and invited key educational experts, teachers, professors, policy makers and cultural and business leaders. This, thanks to the lovely people at British Council Finland, happened at Hub Helsinki yesterday.

We have to say that we were really blown away by the enthusiasm and ideas the esteemed crowd shared with us regarding the festival. It was felt that not only was there a real interest in helping us make this happen but also it was reported there is a genuine need for a festival like this. The group clearly sparked off one another and each brought fresh ideas and unique perspectives to the discussion. There was a buzz and energy in the room that made it obvious that this idea is a goer.

photoThere’s lots more to come but we look forward to collaborating with all of our new partners and working together to make a truly spectacular global learning event.

Kiitos paljon to all who came to the meeting yesterday!

Watch this space…and get in touch if you want to be part of Helsinki Learning Festival 2014


(Our working dates for the 2 day festival is 11th & 12th April 2014… so we’re very much hoping to see YOU in Helsinki a year today:)


Just when we thought he wasn’t for turning….

William Edward's School Head Teacher Steve Munday presenting Blue Sky Classrooms at BETT with Suklaa's Claudia Barwell.

William Edward’s School Head Teacher Steve Munday presenting Blue Sky Classrooms at BETT with Suklaa’s Claudia Barwell.

Interesting times for education.  On a day when EBCs are shelved and it appears that Mr Gove has listened to the enormous noise from the education community – here at Suklaa we feel hope in our hearts for the future.  But we’re known for our positivity..

BETTer the devil you know

Anyone who was at BETT last week will know it was full-on!  We were really happy to have been invited by Tony Parkin (the disruptive nostalgist himself) to present out Blue Sky Classrooms in his theatre for innovation.  Working alongside our friends at William Edwards School we were delighted with the interest around Blue Sky and the ongoing enthusiasm for the design.  William Edwards were the only school with their own stand at BETT – promoting their teachers planning app, WES Planner, which Suklaa helped to design.  BETT was a great way for them to share their innovative practice.  It was a busy week – we spoke to plenty of folk, made some lovely connections and drank a lot of coffee.

This week in Suklaa..

On Tuesday we attended the launch of  ’Learning a Living: Radical Innovation in Education for Work‘ which has hosted at NESTA.  Attendees lined up like a “who’s who” in education in the UK and the conversation around equipping children for the world of work was rich and stimulating. Well done to Valarie Hannon, the Innovation Unit, WISE and NESTA on a beautiful and highly relevant book.  (excellent panelists too!)

We also want to give a shout out to those fabulous folks at Teaching Leaders.  Their annual conference on the 20th April looks set to be an inspirational day.  Check them out if you haven’t heard about them.. they’re growing ‘a movement of outstanding middle leaders in schools in challenging contexts’.

Springtime 2014- Let’s go to Helsinki

We now have our heads down and are putting together a plan for our learning festival in Finland next year.  Working closely with the Finnish Institute, we have high hopes for this to be a truly international affair and an opportunity to share best practice globally. If you have any ‘must-includes’ let us know as we’re in the midst of our planning stage.

Til next time!





‘The festival was a splendid thing. They should do it every year. It worked for Christmas.’


Live art by Squirl Art. Photo by Michael Shaw.

The title is a quote from Tom Bennett’s recent blog post about LFE- check it out! (See more links at bottom).

Just a quick note to say how humbled we (and the whole LFE team) are by the London Festival of Education feedback that continues to flood in days after the event. THANK YOU SO MUCH. To see what I’m talking about just check out #LFE2012 on twitter.

Getting to LFE..
Our team at Suklaa have worked in and with schools and educational establishments for many years. We’ve seen some wonderful stuff happening, amazing teaching and learning but too often it’s in isolation. We also seen how institutions across the country face similar issues and challenges. We’ve been to LOADS of education conferences which are often good, but we see the same faces and we get the impression that speakers are ‘preaching to the converted’. With this in mind we wanted to run a large-scale event connecting all the people in education with those running it, with parents, teachers, school managers, governors, businesses people and with anyone who cares about education.

In 2010 we got in touch with TedxLondon and together designed the Education Revolution which happened last year in the (wonderful) Roundhouse see the talks here. TedxLondon Education Revolution was great and we had some amazing speakers and a brilliant audience of 1000 who were lively and engaged. The TED format has strong features: a ‘sexy’ brand, visually bold, simple images used to support talks, tough time-keeping, long, regular ‘conversation breaks’ (a good thing to do for #LFE2013 by all accounts?!) However, a main criticism we took from the (largely teaching) audience who attended was around the lack of interaction. The lack of a voice for the experts in the seats facing the stage. (I’m not saying it.. I’m not saying it was too ‘sage on the stage’ aargh! too late, it’s in! and it was.. Well if the über cool Michael Shaw (@MrMichaelShaw) can say it I can too;). After TEDx we knew we wanted to do something else…but what?

It was therefore very exciting when we were invited by the Institute of Education and the LFE steering group to tender to be event organisers for this ambitious new event. It seemed like they were on board with our hope to create something BIG, an urban education festival. We wanted brilliant speakers, entertainment, interaction, inspiration, practical learning and inclusion of festival goers voices in the mix. Like the TedX event, prices had to be kept as low as possible and the London Festival of Education had to happen on a weekend so anyone who wanted to come, likely could. (This was not one just for the progressive deputy head that gets to go to all the edu-events, though we do love YOU too:).

We wanted the festival to be fun and inclusive. We invited young people, artists, poets, musicians and tv presenters to participate as well as leading academics, policy makers, journalists, authors and educators. We requested all LFE speaker sessions allocate decent time for audience questions and discussion. David Aaronovitch did this too by opening up the floodgates and bravely inviting his twitter followers to suggest questions for Michael Gove. Oliver Quinlan designed ‘ReconsiderED’ a teach-meet style session for festival participants to take the lead on.

For ease I thought I’d compile a list of blogs and links that we’ve come across so far relating to the festival. (If I’ve missed any please leave a link in the comments). Keep the conversation going. Let us know what you think by clicking “comment” below. And if you want to work with us.. we love a challenge, so get in touch.

Let’s finish up with a quote from Tom Bennett (another one, since he’s funny and generous with praise) LFE was ‘Good with outstanding features’. We’ll take that, that’s fair. Loads to learn. Loads to do differently next time. Loads of work. Loads of fun. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO TOOK PART IN LFE AND MADE IT THE EVENT IT WAS.

The London Festival of Education: Good, with Outstanding Features. Part 1

London Festival Of Education Part 2: Teacher Training, Flirtgate, and The Pale Rider
by @tombennett71

London Festival of Education #LFE2012 on Storify by @C01clem

LFE: What does an educated person look like? by brynll

The Makeroom at London Festival of Education
by @digitalme_

Some thoughts on learning technologies in the classroom by @dajbelshaw

Reconsidered: The discussion #LFE2012 by @oliverquinlan

London Festival of Education by @Annehtraining

London Festival of Education
by @bartlettucl

London Festival of Education 2012 by @dawnhallybone

Building a Trust Culture: It’s not all hugs by @headguruteacher

London Festival Of Education 2012 #Gove by @emmalwarren

London Festival Of Education Report #2 by @emmalwarren

Learning on the edge by @bridgetmck

Also big thanks to the v talented artists:
Greg Stobbs from Squirl Art who was live painting the canvases on the IOE’s stairs and created the signage for the event.
Laura Sorvala from Auralab who live illustrated several festival sessions.





London Festival of Education 2012

Suklaa are proud to be the festival organisers behind last saturday’s London Festival of Education. We worked alongside a team at Times Educational Supplement, Institute of Education and other partners including Keri Facer from Bristol University and Lucy Heller from Ark to deliver a sold out festival which was attended by 1500 people. We were blown away by the quality of the speakers, the performers, artists and workshop leaders. The day exceeded even our expectations, the atmosphere was extremely vibrant and festival goers seemed inspired and excited by the day.

Here’s a general sense of how it was received:





Want more? Search for #LFE2012 on Twitter to see ace blog posts, comments and thoughts. Extremely positive so thank you Tweeps for being so lovely! Of course we know we could always do things better and will be sending out a survey to gather feedback from festival goers and contributors very soon.
We have some clearing up to do; some wine glasses to wash and some graffiti to remove, but then we’re READY FOR OUR NEXT CHALLENGE. So whatever you’ve got, throw it our way.
For now, enormous thanks to our team for LFE2012. Suklaa HQ rise to their (very sore) feet to give a standing ovation to:

Rachel Swinburne: Ex Suklaa core team and now teacher training in Blackfen. Amazing in every way.
Laura Fensom: Team Suklaa’s right hand woman… without whom we’d be a bit rubbish.
Kate Robinson: Stylish, cool and happy to do anything to save the day for Suklaa. Sir Ken and Lady Terry should be very proud
Pippa Barwell: Suklaa’s favourite intern and Claud’s sister. All help with her dialogic teaching thesis gratefully received
Emily Burnett: Suklaa can’t say we work with kids, without working with kids. The coolest 15 year old on the planet

…and all the contributors, volunteer festival makers, TES and IOE staff who made it what it was. Amazing! A big special shout out to Michael Shaw from TES who definitely went the extra mile to make the festival fly. THANK YOU to everyone who came took part in the festival and who have already sent us feedback! It was hard work but so worth it. Until next time…!


Thank you very much.