...and how do you choose the best workshop provider?

These are dilemmas many schools face when looking to organise a school event, whether it be for British Science Week, Summer School or another enrichment day in the year.  What on Earth do you measure it against?  Finding the best workshop providers for your school can feel like separating the wheat from the chaff by hand!

But don't worry, we hope to help.

One of the first questions will probably focus on cost.  What is the best guide to determine the expected cost of an event?  Do you compare it to the cost of a school trip? Or is it the cost of a supply teacher?  Perhaps, it is the cost of a staff CPD session?  Grants of £500 are commonly available during science week through to summer holidays.  But what can that amount of money realistically buy you?

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as supermarkets make it look for food shopping.  Can a 'cheap' event really offer the same as a 'leading' product - one in which investments in skilled presenters, top range equipment and activity development have been heavily invested in?  And, more to the point, what is 'Cheap'?

Workshop Directories to the Rescue?

There are no effective comparison sites for educational workshops.  Even the STEM Directories or the multitude of newer directory sites do not really help that much – as they do not compare like for like and offer little in the way of independent review.  Without a robust review system, encouraging teacher feedback other teachers can trust, it can be totally overwhelming looking for best stem workshop providers.  Instead, the directories tend to offer little more than an advertising space for the myriad of providers.  What should be a simple process can take considerably longer than expected and still result in a lucky-dip situation!

An event may look like it covers the same subject – for example a CSI day – but it is far more complex than that.   Even if you break it down to a single activity, such as fingerprinting, you have to consider the range of practical techniques taught, the level of interaction for every individual, the quality of brushes and powders used, the level of challenge and whether or not there is progression within the activity, the organisation of the activity and amount of time wasted....etc etc etc.

There are a multitude of factors to take into consideration – but at the end of the day the main ones should always be:

Quality, Content and Value Added

To help you to assess this early on, there are some critical questions to ask anyone you are thinking of inviting into your school.

Critical Questions to Ask Potential Providers

1) What are the intended learning objectives/outcomes?

2) Who will deliver the workshop and what experience do they have?

3) How is it differentiated?

4) What post-event follow up or feedback is offered?

If the answers to these straightforward questions are hard to come by or fail to fill you with confidence that the provider has any real teaching skills, then walk away.  You will know within moments.  The best workshop providers for STEM or any other field will be able to talk with you in-depth about both content and delivery strategies.

Do not end up being one of the teachers we so often talk to after a workshop, that regale horrors from an event they have held previously (with other providers) - events in which pupils have been disengaged early on and the day has spiralled into chaos.  You have possibly experienced those workshops for yourself.  I know I saw plenty as a teacher myself, which is why Thinkers in Education focus on effective teaching that cannot be delivered ordinarily.

A recurring nightmare we often hear about is the one where a provider showed up late or not at all.  The number of host schools that are surprised by our prompt arrival one hour before the event is incredible and makes us realise the difficulties you face when selecting an event.  Our teams always stay close to the event venue the night before to ensure they arrive as expected (even if traffic is appalling).  It all boils down to planning and preparation.  The best workshop providers will have this air-tight and you will be able to determine the quality level of your chosen provider by asking the questions above.

Thoroughbred or Asthmatic Nanny-Goat?

In 2015 a film called ‘The Imitation Game’ was released (if you have not seen it we recommend you do – it is a very good British film – and the word spread quickly upon release to say so).  It focussed on the breaking of the enigma codes in World War II.  When Dan Jolin of Empire, a leading film magazine, reviewed the film - his comment rang bells with us.

“Compare The Imitation Game with 2001’s Enigma [about the same subject] and it’s like racing a thoroughbred against an asthmatic nanny-goat – it’s almost embarrassing how much better this is”

We will bring the Thoroughbred of events to your school and you can read the teacher and student testimonials from past events to justify this view by clicking HERE.  But for now, read the information below and you will not only see the logic of our pricing but you will hopefully understand how we justify and stand by it.

What do the costs of our school activity days include?

To explain our costs, we have listed them below and explained the logic for each one in more detail further down.

When you look at the list and logic, we think you will agree – we offer tremendous value for money.

Our view is somewhat supported by the fact that 100% of host schools have ticked the ‘I recommend the event’ box on the post event evaluation form and over 95% of schools host our events again within a year of the first.

Fee for our full-time specialist presenter (a fully qualified teacher) – either a highly experienced science teacher or whole-school G&T Coordinator

Fee for the co-presenter/classroom assistant – specifically trained in our event programmes to offer support to the lead presenter.

The cost of travel to and from your school + overnight accommodation for each of the presentation team.

All resources and specialist equipment for students to use.

Pre-event preparation of resources by our in-house team (typically a ½ to 1 day)

Prizes and Medals for pupils in the winning team(s).

What is the event cost based on?

We strongly believe our track record - 100% recommendation by hosting schools - is because of our unrivalled attention to detail, quality of presentation and pre-event preparation.

The people:

The most important feature of a successful workshop is the delivery style and skill of the presentation team and the design of the activities.  Our teams are led by exceptional classroom teachers – all highly experienced and previously G&T coordinators or Heads of Department before leaving teaching to work with Thinkers in Education – supported by a specialist support assistant.

All have helped with the design of the activities we offer and continue to develop new and existing programmes.

So, when you host one of our events – you are not only introducing a finely honed event for either STEM or G&T provision but hiring an expert teacher and their specialist support assistant that form a team.  Your teachers can discuss strategies and techniques with the team to help use similar ideas in their own teaching or scheme designs in the future.  It proves to be a very useful form of CPD.

Unlike many other companies, we do not believe in using under-graduate or post-graduate students (with no real teaching experience) to deliver a scheme they have no investment in – just to save on costs.  Equally, we do not hire supply teachers – as they do not have the required familiarity with the course design.  When you host one of our events you are working with people that have a vested interest in the quality of the event and can adapt the delivery style to best meet the requirements of your students.

The fees for our presentation team are based on the costs of hiring qualified supply teachers through an agency.  We believe this is the fairest way to ensure our team remain dedicated.

Some schools use this to their advantage and use the regular classroom teachers ‘freed up’ in the time table by our event team to cover other lessons.  It effectively saves on the cost of hiring a supply teacher that day.

The Travel Costs:

Our approach guarantees we will be ready to deliver the event for you as planned.

Time and time again we hear about bad experiences schools have had with outside event providers, in which the provider has not arrived on time – or sometimes not at all.

We ensure this does not happen, by ensuring our teams arrive in your area the night before the event.  They may travel up to 3 hours to reach your location – and you never get the best out of an exhausted presenter – so driving extended times on the day of the event is always avoided.  Our team will book into a hotel within a 30 minute drive of your school and arrive the morning of the event with plenty of time to unload and set-up – ready to deliver the event with enthusiasm and energy.  It gives you peace of mind - you can rest assured the event will go ahead.


The Resources & Equipment:

We have thoroughly researched the different equipment available for each activity and invested in the very best – most of which often proves too expensive for a school to purchase for everyday use.

To ensure the activities run safely yet realistically – we chemicals and simulated biological samples designed for educational purposes.  These all need preparing before an event.  It is the reason we have a dedicated team of support staff responsible for the preparation of event resources – from practical kits to chemical mixtures – ready to distribute to students quickly to avoid ‘down time’ and maximise learning.  It helps to ensure the event runs seamlessly from one activity to another.

Our Logic:

We believe an event should be an experience that cannot be easily duplicated in the classroom.

We have invested considerable time fine tuning and adapting activities to ensure, as best we can, that pupils will be exhilarated and staff will be inspired.

We can only achieve this high level of expectation using the approach detailed above.

We believe a workshop is an investment your school with value added during and after the event.

If you are searching for the best experiences for your students, the best workshop providers should deliver on all of these fronts.  Contact us to discuss how we can help.