The End of Northern Rocks. The beginning of…


In 2013 I was feeling frustrated as a teacher. The CPD on offer in my school didn’t come anywhere near to meeting my needs – or, as far as I could see, the needs of many of my colleagues. I was starting to engage on twitter, to read new things about education and think about my school experience and I was desperate to connect with others. And so, after attending ResearchEd and chatting with Emma Hardy, we decided to set up Northern Rocks. We didn’t mind paying for our own CPD on a Saturday, but we were tired of trekking South for it. So we built it up north. And people came.

They came in their hundreds. And they’ve come ever since. May 19th will be the fifth Northern Rocks. And the last.

The explosion in Saturday events has been a wonderful and worrying thing. There is something on almost every weekend. And I’ve started to feel uneasy. Have we unwittingly created an expectation that teachers will see Saturdays as their training day in an already overloaded week? Are we creating a culture that you’re “missing out” if you’re not at as many of these events as possible? Is it becoming an expectation that not only will you give up your time, but also your money? Have I, along with others, ended up creating an additional workload burden?

I’m torn. Northern Rocks is joyous. It is full of good will and good spirit. From the generosity of speakers, helpers and Leeds Beckett University, to the warmth and wisdom of the delegates – there’s a special atmosphere that I think is unique. And we’ve raised thousands upon thousands of pounds for charities. All of that has been amazing. But it was set up to support and champion teachers. I think we need to press pause and think. I feel bad relying on the same people to help me every year – most of them classroom teachers themselves. I worry about the unspoken assumption that people will just give up their precious family time both to help and to attend. I hear those teachers on twitter who say they feel sad they couldn’t be there, but they have commitments and a life… There has to be a better way.

If the problem is that teachers need (at least for one day a year) to have an element of choice over their training, why not have that in the working week? Why not have a National Teacher Learning Day as one of our allocated Inset days? Could we get enough schools to sign up to that? And on that day what if we have a whole variety of events going on that teachers can choose to meet their needs, their budget and their location? What if we co-ordinated our efforts and worked together?  What if?

I don’t know what will happen, but I do know I’ve always had a nose for when things are going off. And it’s usually when they’re looking most rosy. Saturday events are thriving. But I’m seeing teachers work themselves into the ground. And much as I love getting all those amazing people together on a Summer day in May or June, I think it’s time to rethink. I’d love to know your thoughts and feelings on this too. so please do comment. If you are an event organiser who would be happy to think about signing up to this, let me know. If you are a school leader who would be interested in sending their staff along to a National Teacher Learning Day event, let me know. If you are a teacher who is thinking “I’ve had enough of training on a Saturday – let there be a national event during the week” then let me know. If we build it…




12 thoughts on “The End of Northern Rocks. The beginning of…

  1. Basically, yes. I would love to attend many of these events – not so much because of the CPD opportunities, I must admit, but because I want to meet, face to face, and talk to the people I have conversed with in TwitterLand. BUT, I have three children who aren’t getting any younger and a husband I want to spend time with. If I’m out at the weekend on a teacher thing…it feels like a lot.

  2. We used to have cross la training days. You choose which workshop you wanted to attend and off we all went. Works in a city where the schools are all close geographically. Sadly, academisation put paid to that

  3. Just on Friday we had a 6 school joint inset (our 5th). We all get together for a keynote and then head off to the sessions of choice – from ‘big names’ like Craig Barton through to our own staff leading sessions on their work ideas. It’s similar for TAs, bursars, exams officers too.

    Used to be (when we started with 4 schools) all on one site, then we had a year split across several geographically spread (which lost it’s vibe a bit but allowed tighter focus around key themes) and now held across 2 schools you can walk to & fro between in minutes as the numbers >600 staff make it very challenging for one s hool to host.

    There are issues we have faced – happy to chat through them.


  4. Would love to a see a National Teacher Training Day. Think that’s easy to do in June each year … maybe in the distant future we’ll have a University model… CPD every Wednesday afternoon

  5. Great post. I am an NHS GP who has been following your posting for a long time. My work as a GP in the 1980s and 1990s in Dudley led me to understand that Teachers and GPs could and should be working together on many topics. We need to bear in mind that children are only “in school” for about 20% of their time as children and young people. Could you/we set up a conversation – “face to face” if possible to begin to explore how NHS GPs and Teachers might work together ? Dr Malcolm Rigler

  6. I think it’s a great idea. I’m up in Scotland and often look on enviously at all the activity south of the border. I think that using a week day would mean that more teachers could attend- although I believe that up here some local authorities are making it difficult for teachers to be out of school for a day. Professional learning is important and shouldn’t be something that is accessible to all ,(it would also mean I wouldn’t have to give up on one of my weekly rides with the local bike club to do PD on the weekend!).

  7. I’m coming this year – and it’s my first time. I went to my very first Saturday event last year (ResearchED) and have done a few since then. I love them. I know for certain that there are thousands of teachers who have no idea Saturday events take place, are not on Twitter and have not ever considered taking charge of their CPD. You may think it’s all coming to an end, but for some – we’re just starting – and others haven’t started yet. I think the teacher population is big enough for Saturday events to keep going and going. The cohort will change… you early adopters will be off innovating in some other way probably while the rest of us catch up.

    I agree with a National day as well. Surely, surely this could happen? Just one day a year. That’s got to be something we could all agree on.

    But I still think Saturday cpd should continue. I’d like to take one on – I’d like to do one in Leicester… L-Rocks? Can I talk to you about this at some point? I’m not sure where to start. I just know there are loads of teachers who have yet to discover and benefit from Saturday cpd… so it can’t end yet!

    Can’t wait for N Rocks. And looking forward to meeting you. 🙂

  8. I really like this idea, because I am one of those teachers who would love to attend these events but the double issue of living in Norfolk (where everything is a long way to go) and working Saturday Mornings (boarding school) I can’t. I also find it frustrating that if I wish to attend an event or have been asked to speak at an event that occurs during school day I have to take it as unpaid leave (if permission is given at all) as it will not be covered by the CPD budget and I am just a classroom teacher.

  9. I’ve been to all but one Northern Rocks and loved it from day 1. I was still teaching then and was glad enough to give up one Saturday. I’m sad to see it come to an end as I think the north needs events like this.
    I also think a National CPD would be a great thing but hard to organise and co-ordinate.
    Thanks for all your work over the 5 years of NRocks – it’s been much appreciated.

    ps I would have been happy to help out any time.

  10. Love this post. Really thoughtful and thought-provoking. This is what I’m thinking:
    1) Thank god I have a ticket to northern rocks
    2) I love the wave of teachers taking control of their profession; as someone posted “the early adopters”. Long may this continue!
    3) I absolutely agree that teachers taking control of their CPD should be celebrated and valued. How motivating would that be for teachers to have a plethora of events to attend to inspire them and energise their practice? It would definitely be a factor that would keep me in teaching. Needs to be on a week day to give it this status and value.
    3) Why stick to the UK? This could be international. “Bangkok rocks”. I mean, it rhymes and everything!

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