BETT 2013 is on the way, this one more than a little different. It is later in January, at new venue ExCeL and will call on the skills of new BESA director Caroline Wright. Sal McKeown caught up with her to find out more about the show and how she is enjoying her new role

How will BETT 2013 be different?
Caroline WrightCaroline Wright: 'a tough few years'It will be bigger and better than ever and suppliers have high expectations of the new venue. BETT is one of the first big shows at ExCeL since it was used to host Olympic and Paralympic events and it now has excellent transport links so we are expecting a good response.

From BESA's point of view we are delighted to have so much extra space to develop content and ideas and there will be lots of new features: technology in higher education aimed at university leaders, a School Leaders Summit and Learning At Work, a new conference focusing on technology for training professionals in industry and public sector organisations.

Schools are facing more and more cuts. If they can't afford supply cover why would they come to a trade show?
We are aware that schools are under pressure and cannot necessarily afford to pay supply cover and expenses. BESA research shows that some areas are forming groups or clusters for training and purchasing. We are offering a limited number of bursaries to pay for a minibus to bring local consortia to BETT and would urge them to get in touch with us as soon as possible.

As well as running the exhibitions and conferences BETT 2013 will make good use of additional space to run sessions covering new classroom technology and teaching techniques. The training and demonstrations will provide first-rate CPD at no extra cost.

What challenges face BESA right now?
It's been a tough few years for companies: schools have waited to see the impact of changing budgets. They have held fire waiting to see government thinking and are just beginning to spend now.

While there has been a harsh economic climate it's not all doom and gloom. Our research shows that confidence is growing at home and that UK trading in some countries and sectors has been increasing. BESA offers tailored advice and works closely with UK Trade and Investment and we have seen opportunities in emerging overseas markets. In fact we recently had a pavilion at a very successful trade exhibition in India.

Tough times need a strong trade association which can campaign on behalf of the whole sector. Trade associations need to be up to speed on the state of the economy and make sure they stay fit for purpose.

Why does BESA matter?
First it makes sure knowledge and insights are passed on to teachers and the government. It also researches fresh opportunities and different ways of working.

Right now we are trying to provide tailored advice to school leaders as the local authorities' role has changed so much and there is a real need for practical sensible advice on leasing and procurement. There are some 23,000 schools and direct mail is not an option so we use different channels such as the press, our website, social media, exhibitions such as BETT, the Education Show and the London Festival of Education.

We also run Special Interest Groups, expert seminars and networking events for our 300 members. These range in size from big companies such as Microsoft to small family businesses with less than five staff. They all have different agendas and needs but BESA's job is to provide services they might not find elsewhere.

BESA can offer practical business advice for members through guidance and facilitating expert support services and seminars. For example this month we are arranging for exports from the the Government’s Export Finance agency to come to BESA to speak to our members about the different forms of finance support and insurance that are currently available to companies who want to export or trade in emerging international markets.

How has your previous experience prepared you for your work at BESA?
Bett Olympia 2011Out with the old: no more cramped BETT at OlympiaI've worked in the public and private sector from newspapers and PR to strategic positions in the Civil Service. I was a regional journalist in Essex, and East London as well as working at the Sun for a short time before moving into PR working with the Post Office covering the Royal Mail, Parcel Force and Post Office Counters. It was one of the largest employers in the country, dealing with everything from union/government relations through to letters to Father Christmas.

I moved across to the DTI travelling the world to promote British export. This was obviously very relevant to my new role at BESA. After several years of PR and journalism I became head of marketing and media at Ofsted. At the time Ofsted was moving to shorter notice inspections. It was four or five years into the Labour government when I joined and we had a robust relationship. Ofsted was highlighting issues that had not been addressed and the government respected our stance.

I then worked at the Department for Education as director of communications from 2006 to 2010 before leading communications for the coalition’s cross-government HR change programme at the Cabinet Office from 2010-11. It was fascinating being at the heart of government and seeing how things happened. It was a time of great change for all government departments with reorganisation of many back-office functions. I was tasked with managing public perceptions of the Civil Service and helping drive forward cultural change .

What appeals to you about your role at BESA?
One of my first tasks for Ofsted was to organise a photo shoot. Of course I had done this many times before in other jobs but I was used to dealing with adults in suits and not seven-year-olds who would not stand still. Education is so much fun!

Education matters and is always likely to be featured in the first few pages of a newspaper because it is relevant to most of the population. We have all had an education and we nearly all know someone who is having one now. The role as a director at BESA ticks every box for me. I love education and this job lets me be part of a team and puts me back at the heart of strategy and delivery.

What do you think will be the big stories in education in the next 12 months?
My gut feeling is that there are going to be lots of discussions around exams at 16-18 and the 14-19 debate on vocational education. We are likely to see the different political parties testing out ideas as they develop their manifestos.

Sally McKeownSal McKeown is a freelance journalist. Her book, How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child, is published by Crimson Publishing



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