The fourth Northern Rocks marked the end of an era. From the first, when Emma Hardy and I, from a single tweet, gathered a group of 500 in a room and pinched ourselves, to this, our last done together, it’s been a blast. Emma’s election to Parliament means she’ll no longer have the time to do Northern Rocks and I’ll miss her like I miss my flat stomach and straight jawline. But I’m so proud that this wonderful woman, who only four years ago, stood in front of the inaugural Northern Rockers and said “I’m just a primary school teacher” is now in a position to champion primary and secondary school teachers across the country. She’ll always be my Northern Rocks partner in heart and we look forward to welcoming her next year as a guest.
We started with a proper Northern welcome from the Wardle Academy brass band. They are completely brilliant. Put all images of school bands out of your mind and think Brassed Off. They literally blew us away.
They were followed by a damp eyed (nothing gets to you more than kids performing well does it?) Wonder Woman panel and what a panel it was. I’ll never quite get the image of the hanging dwarf toy out of my mind. Tears of awe were replaced by tears of laughter very quickly. But there were serious messages too – about bravery and integrity. About doing the right thing. It was a great start to the day.
We ended with the student panel – three courageous young women talking with the audience about their hunger for politics, for equality, for an education system that teaches them about life. They fully deserved their standing ovation. They did themselves and their schools and the Reclaim charity proud.
And in-between we had workshops of every shade – pedagogical, political, workshops on representation and equality, workshops on classroom practice, workshops on making classrooms magical and engaging places for children to be, and workshops on teacher well being. The place was “buzzing” in the words of NR mascot – the most northern man in the universe – Hywel Roberts.
David Cameron’s decision to speak openly and honestly about Amanda Spielman’s decision to pull out of Northern Rocks was timely and important. We have seen in recent months, a trend towards introversion from government. A silencing of quangos. An unwillingness to engage with the media. Amanda’s absence was part of a bigger pull away from engaging with those most affected by the decisions of government. His measured but powerful response in which he made clear that those who hold us accountable should also be accountable to us, resonated with all of the delegates there and I am grateful to him for his wisdom and articulacy in putting that across.
And as always, we ended on a light hearted note, with Mick Waters and Hywel Roberts taking on the Morecambe and Wise northerness of laughter. With an alarming cameo from David Cameron.
With Emma on the election trail, Amanda Spielman pulling out, losing our set designer and various other glitches, it felt like a miracle when it all went well. But it did go well. A newbie rocker came up to me in the middle of the day to say “I’m having such a great time – it feels like a music festival. Everyone is so friendly and happy!” It was exactly what I needed to hear. Northern Rocks has great speakers. We work hard to create a stimulating and interesting programme. But on the day, what makes the atmosphere what it is are the people who come. Many are not on twitter – they come through word of mouth. Many are not even remotely aware that there’s such a thing as a prog/trad debate. They come for ideas to take back to their classrooms. One thing unites them all – it’s a spirit of kindness, a willingness to learn and a capacity for joy. And that spreads.
I feel blessed to be taking it forward into the future. We’re going for an earlier date next year – the 19th May. No World Cup clashes! We’re thrilled that in spite of facing budget difficulties, Leeds Beckett and the Carnegie School of Education remain committed to hosting. We? Well yes. Standing behind me this year and every year, are a team of committed helpers. Some of them just rock up on the day and say “what can I do?” In addition to the bend-over-backwards awesomeness of Rachel Bostwick of Leeds Beckett, there are those like Dan and Kirsty who have been there every year, running the registration desk and Eventbrite site, helping me with the large crinkle-cut bag of chips on my shoulder about technology. There’s Ken, who runs around with his bag of leads making sure all the tech works, and only accepting a bottle of wine and couple of books in return. Jane Hewitt, our “granny with a camera” who takes the brilliant photos I now share. Our champions Roberts, Waters and Cameron who are always on the end of the phone for this phone phobic – and then send emails instead. All of them and you too – our delegates – are what makes it what it is. And of course, Mr Kidd. Mr Kidd with his sore back and bruised ankles, who fits all my needs in around his full time teaching job, carrying heavy stuff, sweating and not complaining. Thanks to him. And to you. All of you are Northern Rocks. Thank you.