A review from Third Space Learning teacher Sophie Waterman-Smith of Primary Rocks Live #PrimaryRocks 2017, the not really an education conference, but day of CPD, networking and educational fun and here are 9 top teacher tips learnt.

The  Primary Rocks Live event sold out in 100 minutes flat. #PrimaryRocks was also the 20th most trending Twitter hashtag in the UK on the Saturday of the event. It was huge! As a former teacher I know how inspiring these events are – particularly hearing about how educators are moving UK education forwards.

The Primary Rocks conference, born from one of the most successful Twitter chats for educators of recent years, allows teachers to receive great CPD while also offering the opportunity for attendees to develop their networks. It’s every teacher’s dream. Even just standing in the queue for a free ice-cream (yes, really!) I met some really interesting educators, like Tim Head.

Knowing that some of you couldn’t give up your Saturday (although I recommend you consider it once year!), I’m sharing with you what I took away from the day so here’s an overview of some of the incredible pedagogical insights of #PrimaryRocks2017: my game-changing teacher tips.

1. Teachers are incredibly dedicated

The day began with Gaz Needle, Primary headteacher and co-creator of Primary Rocks opening the conference in front of hundreds of teachers and educators in Manchester.

This, in itself, was inspiring – knowing so many people had given up their Saturday to travel to a primary school in Manchester in the hope of improving the teaching their pupils received was incredible. The utter dedication, care, and determination involved in such a huge meeting is something I suspect you rarely see in other professions. It is said teaching is a vocation or a calling and, on that day, I really couldn’t agree more.

As always, it was great to listen to an inspiring teacher, leader, and educator .The audience cheered, laughed and left Gaz’s introduction on a high for the day! The main message I took from Gaz was that us teachers need to maintain ‘consistency in everyday excellence’.

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If you want more from Gaz, I recommend this blog post on how to prepare pupils for KS2 Maths and English SATs on our blog.

2. Teachers have the power to create change

I sat down in the front row during the first session and happened to sit next to Paul Dix and started chatting to him. I did not realise who he actually was (an amazing speaker and behaviour specialist with over 14,000 Twitter followers) until he got up to speak to the whole conference!

As a behaviour specialist, Paul shared some great primary advice with us. The most compelling advice I took from Paul’s talk was that ‘when the adults change, everything changes’. Paul emphasised that the way adults behave is so important and that it needs to be consistent. It can be so easy for teachers to blame outside factors for pupil behaviour but if we can lead the way forward for pupils’ behaviour and demonstrate the correct behaviour ourselves, we will become better leaders.

3. Boundaries are important: for teachers & pupils

Paul also advised that as teachers we should ‘maintain boundaries without cruelty and correct children without aggression’.

From my own experience, I believe it is true that keeping at least some space between your life, yourself, and your pupils is extremely important. Both in terms of our own wellbeing and your pupils’.

Without these boundaries, Paul suggested it is likely to see teachers who can go from ‘0 to 100’ too easily. Teachers who somewhat struggle to maintain control. Admittedly, Paul’s impression of this with pupils and teachers was very amusing but was also highly thought-provoking.

Paul also suggested we need to focus on positive behaviour in the classroom. He noted that in his experience, positive notes home are particularly beneficial. (Here are 9 more ways to celebrate pupils’ success with parents.)

He did say that not all pupils should be treated equally with regards to rewards – which may sound rather odd at first.

His reasoning for this, however, was that consistently hard-working pupils who go above and beyond could receive a whole teacher note home on a Friday afternoon, but more disengaged pupils could receive the same reward over a 4 week period (receiving ¼ of a note each week). We should then remind these pupils of the positive behaviour they exhibited next time they do not abide by the class rules. These structures allow teachers to build emotional currency with pupils and develop their self-confidence.

Top tip from Paul:

Try saying ‘I’ve noticed…’ to your pupils if you need to bring up an issue with one of them. This ensures the pupil does not feel judged in any way.

4. Teaching is gruelling, but don’t let that lower expectations

The first CPD session of the day I attended was Stephen Lockyer‘s session on how to maintain high expectations with your class.

He suggested teachers should develop a sense of self-regulation in their pupils and that one particularly effective way to do this is to ask pupils to get used to adding ‘so that…’ into their sentences.

This seems simple but it actually allows for pupils to self-expand upon their answers and therefore constantly reflect upon their work. This, in turn, will mean pupils’ have higher expectations of their own work.

Another easy way to maintain high expectations with your pupils is to show them pupil work from previous years – usually a strong piece of work on the same class task so pupils know what to aim for.

5. Teachers should beware negative labels

Stephen also warned about negative labels of ability groups. He argued that bottom groups should be reset to groups that are ‘not there yet’ and shouldn’t be obviously labeled. Otherwise how else would we ensure a growth mindset in our pupils?

Teachers can also ensure fluidity by changing around ability groups on a weekly basis, almost like taking a mixed ability approach to teaching.

If interventions are used to support particular pupils, teachers should ensure gaps in pupils’ knowledge should be filled as soon as possible.


Stephen also mentioned that be has succesfully used Twitter to reach out to celebrities with his class. This allows pupils to centre their work around an authentic audience and you never know, you may even get a response from a celeb!

Top tip from Mr Lockyer:

Send photos of your school and pupil achievements/events to the local press. They’re bound to want to publish it!

6. Ofsted want to see happy, learning pupils

The second session I attended was by Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director, Education who spoke about what Ofsted are really looking for during their inspections. For a discussion of what Ofsted are not looking for – particularly in regards to expected progress, see our blog post on ‘The Myth of Expected Progress‘ by @PrimaryY6Teach.

One key message I took away from Sean’s talk was that safeguarding in schools is an essential part of school inspections and will always continue to be so. Sean said that he likes to sit in the playground and observe the atmosphere of the school and to see whether pupils know where to go with any problems.

More general key themes that Sean noted regarding inspections were impact, culture and a broad and balanced curriculum. He also emphasised that good pupil behaviour is really important.

Sean gave a clear idea of the main questions he asks during inspections. The three key questions he always asks are:

  1. Where have you done well? How do you know?
  2. Where have you not done so well?
  3. What’s next?

7. We need to worry less about data for Ofsted

The evidence Sean looks at during inspections include conversations with staff/pupils/parents, the school’s approach to self-evaluation and pupil data. However, Sean also emphasised that data is not the be all and end all to an inspection and that it is important for inspectors to know what they can and cannot infer from school data.

Furthermore, even though marking is always a hot topic, Sean confirmed that there is no expectation that marking needs to be completed in a particular way and there is no expectation about the amount of work that needs to be in pupils’ books.


For those who are due a short inspection?

For these inspections, the inspector will look at your school data and website the day before the inspection. Sean stated that having a dialogue with the headteacher is really important with these inspections.

If an inspector thinks that a school needs re-grading after a short inspection or the inspector needs more time to decide, the team will come back the next day to complete an s.5 inspection. If this happens, do not be too worried as about one-third of short inspections do convert to a full inspection.

Sean also said he thought that ‘overall, inspections do have a positive impact’.

In 2015-16, 72% of schools were rated ‘good’ or better and also 90% of primary schools were in this category which is very positive. The percentage of schools being rated these strong ratings is increasing and Sean noted that a character of good schools is that they hold a culture of high expectations.

Top tip from Sean:

Do not waste time writing lengthy case studies for individual SEN pupils. Sean said that he likes to sit down and look at random folders of SEN pupils and ask the teachers about stories of their SEN pupils instead of reading a case study.

8. Senior leaders should shape school & staff culture

The last session I attended was by Allana Gay who has recently converted from secondary to primary education and is a deputy headteacher. She presented some great advice on supporting teachers who are moving into senior leadership.

First of all, Allana suggested some things that senior leaders should really consider when thinking about their school’s culture:

  • Does your school culture tie into the school values?
  • Does your school culture tie into your own values?
  • What are the norms at your school?

Also, Allana stated that senior leaders need to consistently develop their communication skills in order to promote good staff culture. Which she suggested we can do by sharing our values and concerns and understanding others’ points of view in a constructive and developmental way.

Allana also suggested that we should be careful not to single out ‘star’ staff members as this can deflate the team as a whole.

Alana also mentioned how she believed the best leaders take managed risks and should hire smart. They grow other leaders to work alongside them – in her words, ‘in order to look for talent, leaders need to provide the opportunity for talent’.

9. Teaching is a community – network!

What I consider a hugely important piece of advice was Allana’s suggestion that we should all, always, develop our networking contacts. She also described how networking is essential when moving into leadership as this accelerates your pathway.

Allana argued that the power while the power to teach well and progress is within us, we also need others to help and guide us along our career journeys.

For my own part, I’ve attended and run many networking teaching events across the UK and I’m happy to say that most teachers that attend seem to be increasingly realising the potential of sharing best practice and networking.

This is really encouraging as it is incredibly valuable to get together and share resources, ideas, and stories. Though it is one of the most rewarding, incredible vocations, teaching can be a hard gig sometimes and the power of networking is a way to stick together and – sometimes – simply stick it out!

To this end, at Third Space we run our own Maths Showcases with schools we work with, in order to improve best practice and teaching across the UK. So look out for our next blog post about our Showcases, coming soon.

Top tip from Allana:

Ensure all staff, including TAs, receive coaching and mentoring to ensure great staff development.


Bonus “goes without saying” tip: #PrimaryRocks is awesome!

And the best way to keep that awesome going all year is to join in on Twitter. So, if you are not currently signed up I’d wholeheartedly suggest you create an account today, follow the #PrimaryRocks hashtag, join in the chat on Monday from 8-9pm, and start collecting and sharing great ideas from other Primary Rocks teachers.

If you need further proof of the awesomeness, PrimaryRocks also included a surprise performance from Stan Cullimore a former member of the pop group Housemartins who roused us into a singalong!


Still need more persuading about what a hugely inspiring, enjoyable and enthusiastic experience the Primary Rocks conferences are? Here’s a last word from Niomi Roberts, a Year 5 teacher and head of Science who attended both this year and last year’s conference:

‘The reason I went along last year, and again this year, was because of the superb support, collaboration and high-quality CPD that PrimaryRocks supplies.

It’s meeting with those teachers and leaders that are determined to go above and beyond to share a love of learning with their classes and colleagues. It’s also one of the highlights of my year, it reminds me why I’m so passionate about teaching and allows me – as well as others who attend – to be the best teachers and leaders they can possibly be.

I was so inspired by Paul Dix, Gaz Needle, and Chris Dyson’s talks, and only wish I had the opportunity to attend all the workshops. The level of expertise was, quite frankly, top notch.

PrimaryRocks really does inspire me and this weekend felt like a breath of fresh air!’

If you’re now feeling inspired to do more CPD, we’d love to see you at one of the Maths CPD networking showcase events we run every year. Visit thirdspacelearning.com/events to find out where your nearest Maths showcase is – look forward to seeing you there!

Liked this? Read about the future of assessment in primary schools in our new blog.

Sophie Waterman-Smith , Teacher , Third Space Learning

Sophie grew up in Brighton and taught Maths in a secondary school. In between working with our schools, she writes about the teachmeets she attends on our blog.