Northern Rocks 2015

Well, it’s been a busy eighteen months on the work front and although the teaching and learning never stops, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to get to a large scale educational gathering. The educational landscape has undergone great change in recent times and this was one of the many reasons that I was looking forward to this year’s Northern Rocks with such enthusiasm. Since it’s creation last year by Debra Kidd and Emma Hardy at Leeds Beckett University; Northern Rocks has presented itself as an event aimed at reclaiming pedagogy and it does this by combining debate, question and answer forum and workshops headed by those that are truly passionate about education. It was a great opportunity to catch up with good friends from far away, get tips and advice on areas of interest and mainly to share the passions of the job with other enthusiastic educators.


We started with a welcome from Emma in the gym space which developed in to a panel discussion chaired by Debra and included: Mike Cladinbowl, Principle of the Knutsford Multi-Academy Trust, Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the NUT, Laura McInerney, Editor of Schools Week, Jonathon Simons, Head of Education at Policy Exchange, Melissa Benn, founder of The Local Schools Network and Guardian writer and Professor Mick Waters, patron of the Curriculum Foundation and well respected author amongst many other things. Questions which had been posted on twitter were responded to by the group and proved to identify some of the key issues facing teaching today on topics such as recruitment and retention and the recent curriculum changes. It was an interesting and passionate opening which set the scene perfectly for the day. Enlightening and engaging for all.


As a helper, I was a little frustrated about being limited to one room but fortunately, the quality of speakers was so vast that I had a real breadth of workshops. If I’m honest, it would’ve been tough to decide on my plan because there were so many to choose from so I suppose this was a bit of a gift!

My first workshop Towards Rich and Outstanding Cultural Provision with Drew Rowlands and Dave Herbert was interesting and suitably useful for me as an English teacher. The session concerned the new Artsmark Award process could be developed within schools to ensure a broad and balanced curriculum.

In a time when the creative subjects are at risk of being sidelined due to the demands of the Ebac subjects, it was a refreshing push towards resurrecting and valuing them through a formal process. It was emphasised that the changes are currently in their infancy, but what I did take from this was the process was far more personalised to a school or group of school’s learning journey and that the application had moved beyond far beyond the previous approach. I think the Artsmark is valuable and it was refreshing to see Drew and Dave speak with such enthusiasm about its future. More information available from Capeuk about the changes.

Workshop two Professional Learning and Leadership delivered by Dr Megan Crawford was both interesting and comforting as this is an area that is particularly pertinent to the planning and changes in my current context. The session began with the Self Evaluation Process, a cycle discussed with reference to the Scottish Education approach and covered a range of other areas including: planning and improving your own learning by engaging in professional dialogue, Hargreaves Vision of Sustainable Leadership and Leadership and pupil outcomes. I found this session both encouraging and useful in identifying new reading material, lots of food for thought.


The third session was Jon Tait’s Using Skype to create the Global Classroom and deliver World Class Education. Although I’ve seen Jon speak a number of times, he always seems to have something new to offer. His ability to bring the real world in to the classroom is admirable and I always leave with fresh ideas, ready to take back to my own school. It was interesting to hear about his work with Skype classroom and inspiring to find out about how far-reaching education can be; with the minimal of equipment we can link with experts across the globe and bring to our pupils the power of making the experience real and valuable. I’m hoping to use this idea to set up debates with other schools in addition to bringing ‘experts’ to my pupils. His blog is also well worth a read.


Finally session four was with Lisa Ashes, Challenging and Active Learning Through Literacy. For those who have seen Lisa speak before she’s never short of resources for participants to play with nor is she afraid to get everyone involved. This session was no different. Presenting the ideas that she has developed through her book Manglish , Lisa showcased a range of strategies, exercises and approaches to harnessing literacy across the curriculum. Using a range of subject examples, we were invited to find the literacy and use it to structure learning experiences. With a nod to Jim Smith’s Learning Escalator and my own Clarify-Prepare-Share we were treated to an oracy task, forcing us to persuade each other and a further one in which we needed to justify our choices over who to save on a sinking ship. The session finished off in style with the now infamous Thought Bombs being thrown around the room, developing our thinking with additional information. Again, this was another session which I came away from brimming with ideas for Monday morning. Her blog The Learning Geek is vast and a must-see for teaching and learning.


At the end of an exhausting and motivating set of workshops, we ventured back to the gym for the closing debate with Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of ATL and Sean Harford, Ofsted’ National Director of Schools which considered the pertinent question Is Ofsted merely a Scapegoat in the Education Wars? before closing with comedy, singing and impromptu crowd dancing!

20150614-230244.jpg A closing skit from Hywel Roberts , David Cameron and Mick Waters about the golden days of Ofsted inspections left us all crying with laughter and we barely had time to regroup before David Cameron took us on a musical journey through education which developed in to the aforementioned crowd dancing. Finally, adding her usual touch of class, Rachel Orr sung us out with an educational aria which you can watch here.
The day finished in much the same way that it started, full of positivity and pride in the teaching profession and it really was something to see nearly five hundred teachers giving up a Saturday to invest in their own CPD; something which I was incredibly proud to be part of. Looking forward to next year!