Johanna Raffan
Chair of the Conference

The 6th European conference for ECHA was held in Oxford. It was chaired by Johanna Raffan, who was a member of the General Committee at that time. The conference was joint with the 16th Annual Conference of the British National Association for Able Children in Education (NACE). It was supported by The Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which was responsible for the content of the curriculum in English schools. The conference took place from 18-21 September 1998 by the title “Potential into Performance”
(PIP or Pip, the main character in ‘Great Expectations’!)

“The conference aims to:

  • Explore how the needs of able children are met in the ordinary classroom.
  • Share examples of good practice from a wide range of countires.
  • Examine research that has influenced the curriculum.
  • Find ways of improving the move from Potential to Performance.”
    (ECHA News Vol. 11 no. 2 November 1997)
Announcement in ECHA News vol 11 no. 2 November 1997

The opening address was held by David Jamieson, Member of Parliament (UK) and Anthea Millett (Teacher Training Agency, UK). Keynote speakers were Prof. Robert Sternberg (USA) on “Succesful intelligence”, Prof. Rena Subotnik (USA) on “Beyond Bloom: Revisiting environmental factors that enhance or impede talent development“, Prof. Robert Plomin (UK) on “Genetic research into the development of abilities” and Jarkko Hautamäki (Finland) on “Epidemiology of excellence- an assessment of the commitment to thinking with Sternberg’s triarchic ability test”.

Joan Freeman and Robert Sternberg in Oxford

“The invited speakers concentrated on teacher training and research, whilst the symposia looked at different aspects of education – the various age groups, special provision, lifelong learning and the psychology of high ability. Numerous thematic papers were presented, some in Early Bird sessions at 7-45am! The workshops looked at all aspects of the curriculum from Language to Science, Thinking Skills to Physical education, Art to Religious education. Many of these sessions were practical and great fun. Some of highlights in the workshops were: The delegates in Design Technology, with Ron Lewin, made moving cars and had a competition to see which was the most robust: the watch words were “He saw the same as everyone else but thought something different”.

To Roland Perrson, who lead a session on ‘How to teach (and not to teach) musical performance’. He also entertained us to a very wide repertoire on the grand piano.

Other highlights were the Australians playing cricket on the lawn, a guided walk of Oxford by a 15 year old boy, a four course conference dinner in St Catherine’s Hall complete with long tables, a top table on a dais plus silver and crystal - years before Harry Potter!”
(Johanna Raffan, chair)

The conference took place in St. Catherine’s College: a college formed from the St. Catherine’s Society (established in 1868).

The grounds of St. Catherine’s College – picture: St. Catherine’s College

In the historic and academic sphere of Oxford approximately 300 participants from 32 countries tried to find their way, lively described by Deborah Eyre, who was NACE President in those days:

“When I arrived, the conference venue, St. Catherine’s College, turned out to be as busy and noisy as one might expect from a situation where three hundred delegates from thirty-two countries descend upon one place, all aiming to orientate themselves and locate colleagues. For those who were staying at St. Catherine’s there was the challenge of locating rooms and facilities, and for those staying in Oxford the additional challenge of finding one’s way around a city whose centre was largely built in the 16th Century and where road design makes it impossible to travel north to south across the city unless on foot.”
(ECHA News vol. 13 no.1 April 1999)

“The conference itself passed very quickly . It was immensely pleasing to have such high quality keynote speakers and a real privilege to hear them. Speakers from the UK included a range of top governmental decision makers, demonstrating the seriousness with which the current British government views this issue.”
(Deborah Eyre in ECHA News vol. 13 no.1 April 1999)

An important merit of ECHA is thus pointed out: the influence of the biennial conferences on decision makers, policy and government in the countries the conferences are held!

From a parent’s point of view the conference was very inspiring too:

“On the whole I enjoyed those days in Oxford enormously. Although I had come by myself, and had been somewhat apprehensive about joining a conference on a subject about which I felt I knew so little, it turned out to be very stimulating in every respect. In the future I hope, to coin the well-known phrase in yet another way, to be in a position to put my potential in this field into performance, so that I can contribute something to the study of giftedness.”
(Heleen de Groot in ECHA News vol. 13 no.1 April 1999)

“All in all it was a good conference. It was fun working with ECHA. It is good for associations to work together and ECHA President Franz Mönks and I both felt a joint conference had been a good way to introduce British people to Europe and Europeans to Britain. (…). When the conference was over I was very tired, and I suspect the same for many others, especially those who had worked so hard on organisation.”
(Deborah Eyre in ECHA News vol. 13 no.1 April 1999

Program Book cover Oxford