I’m a Primary Rocker…

And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out
Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads


For various reasons this is the first time I’ve been able to attend Primary Rocks.  I’ve been to other edu-conferences but nothing has a buzz like this.  Selling out tickets in under 2 minutes is One Direction/Take That/Jackson 5 territory (delete as age appropriate) so the organisers obviously have something good going on.

For me, I didn’t have to undergo the torture of waiting for ticket release – I’d been honoured to be ask to speak some weeks before tickets went on sale.  Foolishly I jumped at the chance and now I’m sitting on a train, heading towards Manchester on a cold and somewhat wet/snowy morning, writing this blog so I stop fiddling with the slides for my presentation.

I’m now worried that I won’t get to enjoy the day.  Performance anxiety has taken hold and I’m concerned that my workshop this afternoon will be to an empty room as I scan left and right on the programme and see the plethora of educators, all far more experienced than me, who are delivering what look like amazing sessions (I’ve seen most of the presentations) at the same time as me.

However this is the beauty of Primary Rocks.  The organisers are an immensely supportive bunch of talented individuals who, when they combine their powers, are unstoppable.  Looking at the programme there truly is something for everyone working in a primary school setting.

So that’s the build up, now onto the day…

Logging on to Edu Twitter at 6.00 am on a Saturday is a new experience for me.  Normally my children enjoy a lie in so I’m taken to joining that situation.  However this morning I left home at 5.15 to drive to Newcastle.  I’m sitting on a train with free wi-fi, a double espresso (that the nice man in Newcastle Station Costa opened early to serve me with) and access to the internet.  The hashtag #PrimaryRocksLive is trending and I’m chasing people around Twitter to see where they are travelling from.  I’m sure some alien life form could be looking down from space, tracking the movement of hundreds of teachers, all making their way to Manchester.  It’s like there is some ancient leyline, with some mythical force pulling primary teachers from across the country.

I know some have already assembled in Manchester; photos of gangs of teachers roaming bars and curry houses popped up all over my timeline last night and it’s hard to say that I’m not insanely jealous. Safe to say I will say hello to as as many people as I can today, some of which I feel I’ve known for years but haven’t physically met yet.  There may be hugs and even some fanboy behaviour!

So on to the event itself.  Gaz Needle kicked off proceedings, giving a warm welcome to all and apologising for the Manchester weather.  Then he handed over to Graham Andre for what has to be one of the most engaging and honest keynotes I have ever heard.  Drawing on stories from his childhood, through family trauma and his circuitous route into eventually becoming a teacher he held the audience in his grasp throughout.  I’ve long followed Graham on Twitter and have even collaborated on a couple of things together but it was an absolute privilege to finally meet him and hear him talk.  The 80’s shell suit may take some explanation though.

Then tough choices with session 1.  I chose to see Laura Braun, another long time twitter acquaintance.  Laura’s session covered how her small school is using knowledge organisers, retrieval practice and vocabulary work to improve learning for her pupils.  Sharing practical examples of everything she was talking about, she took us on a tour of what learning looks like in her setting and how making little changes can help.  With nods to great ed tech tools like Spelling Shed and Times Table Rockstars she told us how even the smallest of schools can collaborate with others to become truly evidence informed.  Clare Sealy’s ears must have been burning with the amount of times her work was referenced (alongside many others including David Didau and Alex Quigley).  The biggest surprise however came when Laura was talking about how she uses Jack Phillips’ and Vocabulary Ninja’s work in her classroom, not knowing the Ninja was using his incredible skills to hide in plain sight in the room!

The second workshop session had an incredible array of speakers; unfortunately scheduling my session right in this meant I couldn’t go to any of them.  However the chat on Twitter shows that all were well received.

Following this I chose Maaria Khan’s session on “How Chilli Challenges are Ruining Maths”.  Hearing somebody so passionately stand against ability grouping and differentiation by task was music to my ears as she made us ask questions of our own current pedagogy.  I’ve always felt ability grouping limits the prospects of the children we label “less able” and we should be doing more to support and scaffold those children to attain the same level of work that our “most able” can.  Talk about the maths curriculum led into Maaria asking us to design a rich learning task to support a specific curriculum aim.  Apart from Mike Watson’s complaints about diamonds this was an excellent session with takeaways that everyone in the room can use in their classrooms next week.

For a final keynote the PR team had enrolled the services of Chris Dyson and Simon Smith.  Both great personalities with differing outlooks on education and indeed their own school settings, they took us on a whistle-stop tour of their schools and the “why” of their individual philosophies on headship.  I now need to visit both of their schools to see it all in action.  However anyone who can make a times table competition between tired teachers on a Saturday afternoon deserves all the praise heaped on them.  Simon may have mentioned the location of his school a couple of times too; however in context where both schools are located is very important.

What shone through from both though was a love of teaching and a willingness to do things better for the children they serve.  Hearing this message, backing up all that had been said during the day by other speakers, resonated amongst the whole room.

The most important part of the day though isn’t the presenters or indeed the keynotes.  It’s the connections made by educators from across the country, the snatches of conversations in corridors, halls and over an ice-cream.  It’s been my first time actually getting to Primary Rocks, it certainly won’t be my last.


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