NACE’s English for the More Able conference, in partnership with Rising Stars, is dedicated to sharing evidence-based strategies to challenge and support more able learners in primary English.

Coming to York on 15 March, the event will bring together educators, researchers and advisers from across the country, with keynotes from acclaimed children’s author Anne Fine, Cambridge University’s Dr Neil Mercer, and headteacher Christabel Shepherd.

Read on for the full list of speakers, and a synopsis of each conference session.

Keynote speakers

Anne Fine OBE

Acclaimed author Anne Fine has published books for children of all ages as well as for adults, and is well-known for combining humour with a commitment to addressing serious social issues. Her work has been translated into 45 languages, attracting accolades including the Carnegie Medal, Guardian Prize, Smarties Prize, Whitbread Award and Children's Author of the Year. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, was the second Children’s Laureate from 2001-3, and received an OBE for services to literature in 2003. Her best-known titles include Madame Doubtfire, The Tulip Touch, Goggle-Eyes, Flour Babies, Ivan the Terrible, The Granny Project and The Summer House Loon.

Christabel Shepherd

With over 30 years’ experience of teaching in both primary and secondary settings, Christabel Shepherd has been headteacher of Bradford’s Copthorne Primary School since 2012. Copthorne is an outstanding inner city primary school, one of the lead schools in the Exceed Teaching Schools Alliance, lead school for the Exceed SCITT, and in 2016 gained NACE Challenge Award accreditation in recognition of high-quality provision for more able learners. Amongst other roles, Christabel is currently a local leader of education, leader of the Exceed SCITT English programme, a facilitator for the NPQSL, pupil premium reviewer, and leader of school-to-school support for a category 4 school. 

Dr Neil Mercer

Dr Neil Mercer is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, where he is also a Life Fellow of Hughes Hall college and Director of Oracy Cambridge: the Hughes Hall Centre for Effective Spoken Communication. He is a psychologist with particular interests in the development of children’s spoken language and reasoning abilities, and the role of teachers in that development. He has worked extensively and internationally with teachers, researchers and educational policy makers on improving communication and learning in the classroom. His books include Words and Minds: How We Use language to Think Together, Exploring Talk in School, Dialogue and the Development of Children’s Thinking and Interthinking: Putting Talk to Work.

Sue Riley

NACE CEO Sue Riley has over 20 years’ experience in education, charity and local authority. She has worked both in and with schools and colleges, leading and facilitating the development of curriculum, career, enrichment, learner support and teacher development services. 

Over her career she has led projects for amongst others, Aimhigher, DWP, DfE and the Careers and Enterprise Company. She has run a successful Education Business Partnership, one of the first in the country to gain the Award for Educational Business Excellence, launched an independent Matrix-accredited careers service and led a regional 14-19 diploma programme.

She is passionate about collaboration in education, and is currently working on a range of projects with MATs, TSAs, consortia and charities to support school leaders and practitioners enhance their policy and provision for more able. 

Workshop leaders

Sarah Carpenter

During her 20-year career in education, Sarah has taken on a variety of roles in the early years and primary sectors, including classroom teaching, deputy headship and local authority positions. After a period as literacy and maths consultant for an international company, she returned to West Berkshire local authority, where she is currently school improvement adviser for primary maths and English. As a NACE associate, Sarah supports schools developing their provision for more able learners, leading specialised seminars, training days and bespoke CPD.

Christine Chen

Independent primary education advisor and NACE associate Christine Chen specialises in the pedagogy of English and the growth of more able learners. She has provided support for hundreds of schools, alliances and federations across a diverse range of contexts, and has led highly successful networks for KS1 and KS2 focused on English, more able, outstanding learning and sharing best practice. Alongside fellow NACE associate Lindsay Pickton, she supports a schools-based English hub in Kingston upon Thames, as well as co-authoring and series-editing for Teach Primary magazine and a number of respected educational publishers.

Tom Davey

Actor Tom Davey became a Globe Education consultant in 2015 and has worked as a Globe Education practitioner for nine years, leading workshops to support teaching and learning with Shakespeare across all age groups. Trained at RADA, Tom has featured in productions at the iconic Shakespeare’s Globe and at other leading theatres across the country. You may also recognise him from the small or large screens, with his TV and film credits including Lewis, Silent Witness, The Syndicate, Van Wilder II, The Ruby in the Smoke and more.

Dr Lyn Dawes

Dr Lyn Dawes taught in secondary and primary schools, specialising in science and English, before taking on roles as Education Officer for the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), Senior Lecturer in Education at De Montfort University Bedford and the University of Northampton, and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. Her most recent books include The Essential Speaking and Listening: Talk for Learning and Talking Points (KS2); Talking Points for Shakespeare Plays (KS3); and Talk Box (KS1). Currently a member of Oracy Cambridge at the University of Cambridge, she regularly provides professional development workshops for teachers on oracy and talk for learning.

Judith Mason

Independent education consultant Judith Mason provides support for whole-school improvement and delivers training on the teaching of English and on school governance. Judith has experience as a local authority school improvement adviser, an English consultant for the National Literacy Strategy, and enjoys her role as a school governor. She has also written teachers’ notes and designed teaching games for the Scholastic publication Literacy Time. In her capacity as a NACE associate, she provides consultancy and CPD for schools working to improve provision for the more able.

Keynote session descriptions

Pitching it right, taking it deeper
Anne Fine OBE


They can read. But do they read enough, and in sufficient depth? In the conference’s opening keynote, acclaimed author and second Children’s Laureate Anne Fine will remind us of the sheer importance of books to young people – both for academic progression and for personal development. She’ll also share some of the practical tips and tricks she has come across over the years to encourage all children, and particularly the more able, to read more and get more from their reading.

Leading schools for language 
Christabel Shepherd, Headteacher, Copthorne Primary School


At Bradford’s Copthorne Primary School a majority of learners do not speak English at home. In this inspiring all-delegates session, headteacher Christabel Shepherd will explain how the school has turned this challenge into a true strength – putting in place a comprehensive range of strategies to develop a language-rich environment across the whole school and curriculum. She’ll share the Copthorne approach to developing language and literacy skills, outlining specific initiatives and their impact on learners, with a particular focus on the teaching of reading, vocabulary and spelling.

Why oracy matters in the primary classroom 
Dr Neil Mercer, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Cambridge


Psychologist Dr Neil Mercer specialises in the development of children’s spoken language and reasoning abilities, and the role of teachers in that development. Focusing on more able learners, he will open the afternoon session of the conference by reviewing what is known about the importance of developing children’s spoken language skills, and the effects on their reasoning, subject learning and life chances in general. He will relate the research to practical steps primary teachers can take to help children develop their oracy skills, and discuss the implications for teachers’ professional development and classroom practice.

Workshop descriptions

Mastery in English through an immersion approach 
Sarah Carpenter, NACE Associate


The term “mastery” is now indelibly linked with mathematics, where it is seen as an effective approach to secure learning of the curriculum requirements. But what about mastery in English? What could this look like and how can we take the learning deeper for higher attainers? Sarah Carpenter explores a mastery-based approach to literacy using a high-quality graphic text explored in depth over a half term, which immerses learners in a range of reading and writing opportunities and meets a range of learning needs, supporting those with below age-related reading skills while challenging those working at greater depth.

Questioning at KS2: promoting challenge for more able learners, with a focus on reading 
Judith Mason, NACE Associate


Questioning is an important element within the teacher’s “toolkit”, and one of the most widely used in providing challenge. This workshop will explore questioning for assessment and to develop pupils’ learning, understanding and thinking. The session will include some generic principles and ideas for questioning, with a particular focus on questions to use in the context of reading. As well as the questions asked by teachers, the workshop will consider the importance of developing learner’s own questioning skills. Reference will be made to the content and cognitive domains that underpin end of KS2 reading tests.  

Engaging and exploring Shakespeare 
Tom Davey, Globe Education


Based at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, the Globe Education team runs playful and play-filled workshops for both learners and teachers, using Shakespearean storytelling and roleplay to complement national curriculum requirements. In this interactive workshop, actor and Globe Education practitioner Tom Davey will share practical activities that can be used to engage learners and challenge their thinking about their reading, as well as exploring approaches to using higher-order questions to develop learners’ understanding of characters and their motivations.

Mastering meaning through grammar play 
Christine Chen, NACE Associate


Proving that grammar is anything but dull, NACE associate Christine Chen will explore approaches to deepen learners’ grammatical knowledge and understanding through a range of practical games and fun activities, all designed to support their progress towards greater depth in writing by the end of KS1 and KS2. This games-based “low threshold, high ceiling” approach enables all learners to experience the possibilities of language manipulation, nurturing creativity, collaboration, experimentation and a lasting love of language. 

Being extremely interested: involving more able children in talk for learning 
Dr Lyn Dawes, University of Cambridge


Every learner differs from their classmates. But for a child who differs by having exceptional ability, problems arise if they are isolated by an inability to collaborate with others. In this workshop, Dr Lyn Dawes will suggest that the key to collaboration is to teach every child what they need to master the oral language (talk skills) that enable discussion, reasoning and negotiation – skills that can be simply and usefully taught in parallel with curriculum subjects. The session will provide practical detail of oral skills and how to teach them, with a focus on the idea that mastering spoken language is of profound benefit to the more able learner.
 
View the full conference programme, and book your place online.

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