This year’s Radley and St Helen and St Katharine Conference on 13th November, followed last year’s successful ‘SmartTalks’ format: with five invited speakers talking for fifteen minutes each on a subject of their choice.
First off, was Radley’s Provocateur-in-Residence, James Delingpole, who opened the Conference with an entertaining, hard-hitting talk on ‘How to be a real Revolutionary’. James urged the many sixth-formers present not to follow slavishly set ideas they might encounter at university and in later life: “Just because an idea is fashionable does not mean it is true.” He implored them not to feel ashamed or guilty because of their privileged education, but instead be grateful for it. James re-affirmed his belief that “Private education is one of the best things about this country.” He closed by using the example of the film, ‘The Matrix’, to encourage the audience to choose the more challenging path in life.
The next Speaker, Professor Maggie Snowling, is the first woman President of St John’s College, Oxford, a cognitive psychologist and noted expert on Dyslexia. Professor Snowling explored the issue, “What is Dyslexia?” reminding the audience that “print is everywhere”: extremely daunting if, like her own brother in the 1960s, one struggled to decipher it. She too addressed the issue of educational privilege: stressing the educational problems of language barriers in developing countries.
Nick Abbott, diplomat and Head of the ‘Syria Team’ for the Government’s Stabilisation Unit, spoke next. Nick took as his theme the fascinating issues of the changes in the Middle East over the past 25 years: using his own extensive experience to illustrate his argument. Saudi was quite an unknown entity in 1988, when he first visited, “unused to foreigners” – but now the Middle East itself is far more aware of the wider world. Nick focused on the issues of ‘knowledge’, ‘access’ and ‘transition’ and left the audience far more aware of the huge changes currently taking place in this region: stressing how inter-twined with the Middle East the UK was, with over 150,000 Britons residing in Dubai alone.
The second morning session then featured Joanna Bagniewska, a lecturer in Wildlife Conservation at Nottingham Trent University, with a DPhil at Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. Joanna gave a fascinating talk on the little-known subject of how bees are being used in security matters to detect explosives and drugs. With their acute sense of smell, they could be trained to detect these substances and could be even more reliable than ‘sniffer dogs’. Joanna also outlined other possible uses of bees: for example, in the detection of dry rot in buildings and indeed in the detection of diseases in humans, like tuberculosis.
This was a truly enlightening talk: with every member of the audience spellbound by Dr Bagniewska’s account of how to train bees for these purposes.
The final guest speaker was Lieutenant Colonel Stephanie Jackman who, after two tours in Afghanistan and Command of the Rear Operations Group at Catterick, is currently on the Staff in the Policy Branch of the Army Personnel Group. Lt Colonel Jackman again spoke enlighteningly about the issue of women soldiers serving in the front line as infantry: exploring the moral and practical objections and the difficulties this would pose. She stressed how women were already serving in front-line operations as medics and in logistics and concluded by stating that, whilst most women would not be suited to forward infantry operations, a small proportion certainly would be.
There followed a stimulating Question-and-Answer session, with the panel answering questions on a number of related issues from the morning’s speeches.
In the afternoon sessions, the focus switched to the sixth-formers themselves. All of them, including a delegation from our partner school, Desborough, worked together in mixed groups, preparing five-minute presentations on set issues – ranging from ‘Traffic Jams’ to ‘Tobacco’, ‘Disease’ to ‘Car Deaths’. The idea was to give sixth-formers from all three schools, Radley, St Helen’s, Desborough, the chance to learn an essential skill: how to communicate a key point quickly. Six groups were shortlisted to the final round of talks in the Theatre, in front of the full audience.
The winners were praised by the judge, James Delingpole, for preparing such “excellent talks in such a short space of time.” Presenters in the winning group, who spoke on the issue, “Milk is cheaper than Water” included Hugo Mayes and Edward Hamilton-Stubber.