Friday, 19 June 2015

An Essex Boy in Yorkshire [NRocks 2015 - Part 2]

Here is Part 2 of my write up and reflection (after lunch)... see Part 1 <here>

David Cameron

The REAL David Cameron, not the Number 10 one, who focused on education tourism - and a lot more besides! 

He began by recognising what a tough job we have and reminding us that we will be played... particularly by politicians. David also highlight the fact that teachers are driven by fear, constantly wondering, what will happen next in my classroom? 

There was many name checks of the Twitter/Blogger-sphere including Alex Quigley's 'teaching plateaus that featured recently in the Guardian (see <here>) and Debra Kidd's book where she says, "it is pedagogical activism that will be the butterfly of change.". David then pointed out with conferences such as NRocks that people are not compelled by status to come, they are here because they hope to learn and want to find something to put into practice - and there should be great comfort that many teachers still want to do that. 

He said that if we do not believe in change, then it will not happen. There is much to try and imitate, but adoption doesn't work; it doesn't take things to the heart. 

David cited David Starky's experience in the classroom (see <here>) where we say a world class historian unable to control a class, and unable to teach. Adoption leads to transient movement forward... take the free schools in Sweden - "That's what we need!" said the UK Government - but the OECD report has just declared it a "basket case, failing system". The great marketisation of schools has lead to complete disruption, but we're still sticking with it.

In one of many fun anecdotes, David said that people saying "work smarter" is a valid place for violence in education... it's basically saying, "you are working pretty stupid right now!". A very valid point, it is deeply unhelpful as a remark. He also cited David Brailsford and his marginal gains theory, often used by schools... is it really fair to compare an Olympic cycling team to a school? Is this a good analogy? Personally I have always thought that there is some value in it, but you don't co
me to a conference to nod along to everything.

It was then time for data. Schools have an obsession to get it right for the school, not the child. The idea that teacher can do everything is the very reason that teachers are being burnt out. He cited many examples of how agencies need to pull together and work together for the child.

An interesting comment he made was about 'the club'. We, as teachers, are in the club; we have knowledge. We need to give our children the knowledge so they can join the club. This is the way things work. However, should we not be challenging the rules of the club to let others in? This confused me. I don't know what the club would involve it wasn't the rules as they are... so anyone can get in? Or are we trying to say that knowledge isn't the key to great freedom and choice?

He concluded by saying we are not going to find the answers to our problems in Taiwan or Sweden. We only every talk about adding to teachers workload instead of taking things away... what we need to do with the spinning plates is work out which are Wedgwood and which are Ikea! Which lead to a rousing finale of David shouting about us taking control as the Clash played...

Follow David on Twitter <here>

John Tomsett

It is always a pleasure to hear John speak; he is also one of those who appears to cross the traditional / progressive divide being asked to speak at pretty much every conference going! His blog is always an honest joy to read (see <here>) and he is insightful on Twitter (see <here>)... can't wait to read his book!

The reason I was so keen on this, is that I wanted to see John's meta-cognition ideas in practice. I've been working hard on this, this year and having read a blog back in April, I thought to myself... I do that, I think... (see <here>). For A-Level Philosophy, I simply deconstruct the questions; I underline, highlight, annotate, in front of the students so they know my thinking in approaching a question. I was glad I was no alone! 

John explained how with his Physics class, he knew that they knew the material but couldn't understand why they got such poor marks. He started to look to meta-cognition (the posh word for how your brain works), looking at how it reacts to pressure and what happens when we don't know what to do. So rarely do we train up our brains for exams!

He bought an Ipevo visualiser, gave them another copy of the mock paper and spent time going through questions explaining his own thought process. They annotated as he did. 

John then gave out a third exam paper. Nearly all students went up 3 or 4 grades with no new teaching of content.

We then tackled Hannah and her sweets together! It worked and I am glad my Ipevo arrives next week so I can start looking at other ways to help students with this technique.

The second half of the session included various other nuggets of wisdom from John, based on ideas found in his book: "This Much I Know About Love Over Fear ... Creating A Culture For Truly Great Teaching" (see <here>). He spoke about how school leaders must drive out fear; fear debilitates. We also need to teach students to avoid fear. John spoke about why this must be the reason to take away graded lesson observations for a start. Teachers should not fear the students in their class not getting the right answer... after all they shouldn't be doing easy tasks! He also refered to Rita Pierson's TED talk about being the champion for our students (see <here>)

He ended by highlighting the fact our students are living in a perfect storm. There are cuts to CAMHS and other mental health providers, we have cliff-edge judgements, terminal examinations, harder exams and social media that leaves no down time. 

We ended this time with Joe Strummer... 

Again, it's worth checking out John's blog on his session <here>


After this there was heated discussion between Mary Bousted of ATL and Sean Hartford from Ofsted about the inspection future.

Then music and silliness. Then the pub... see more <here>

All in all, well worth a weekend in Leeds!


  1. It's a bit of a myth that David Starkey was a poor teacher. If you see his lesson with the behaviour problems cut out, rather than emphasised, you'll see he was actually rather good.