Why Primary education rocks [interview]

Gaz Needle

Gaz Needle is undoubtedly the best headteacher who runs a Primary-focused edchat each Monday from 8pm. He has taught since the last century, and is now a head after managing to get away with holding all sorts of other roles in schools. His favourite colour is blue; his favourite number is 7; he supports Manchester City and his favourite video game is Metal Gear Solid on PS1. Oh... he is also the co-founder of #PrimaryRocks.

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Website: www.primaryrocks.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image credit: The Innovate My School Twitter page. Image credit: The Innovate My School Twitter page.

The #PrimaryRocks movement has become an essential education movement in just a handful of years. Here, we shoot the breeze with co-founder and headteacher Gaz Needle, discussing the Twitter chat, the live variant, and the challenges facing Primary schools today.


Why and how did you found #PrimaryRocks?


When I first started using social media for teaching and education purposes back in 2013, I enjoyed joining in with edchats, but found that they were regularly focused on Secondary education and, while there are many similarities, there are also big differences in the ways that Primary and Secondary schools operate. While out with teacher friends, I explained my frustrations, leading to Rob and I proposing that we should make our own edchat. I suggested that it should be called #PrimaryRocks… because it does! And the following week, on 23rd September 2013, the inaugural #PrimaryRocks took place at 7pm.


Since then it has had tweaks and changes, and has grown from strength-to-strength. It started as a few folks having a beer and wanting to promote the great work that happens in Primary schools. This forum where Primary school teachers can share their ideas and good practice has evolved into a weekly behemoth that always surprises me with the wit, humour, insight and depth, shared each Monday from 8pm.

 


How did you go about putting together your dream team of Primary Rockers?


The team are Rob Smith, Jenna Lucas, Leah Sharp, Angela Goodman, Sophie Merrill, Bryn Goodman, Tim Head, Richard Farrow, Graham Andre and myself.


Bryn Goodman, Ang Goodman and Rich Farrow are teachers around Manchester, and we were friends from TeachMeets and knowing each other through Twitter. When #PrimaryRocks first started, I asked if they would support, and they joined in with gusto.


I knew Graham and Tim through a shared love of comic books, and when we started #PrimaryRocks they were enthusiastic engagers (as well as Graham being the creator of mathematicshed.com, in collaboration with Rob).


When we were looking for a team to help organise the live events, we wanted people who were regular #PrimaryRocks contributors. We were also keen to have a better gender balance, and so invited Jenna, Sophie and Leah onto the team. We talk to each other every single day on Twitter, and what started out as distant acquaintances has grown into a group of friends, people who give each other love and support, and have helped each other through difficult times.

 


The #PrimaryRocks Live tickets seem to sell faster than hotcakes. Why is this? The ice cream van can't hurt…


I honestly think it is down to the ethos and positivity that we have built in the #PrimaryRocks community. And that word – community – is what I really feel it is. It is a place where people can come and ask questions, and clarify their thoughts without fear of humiliation or judgement. I am a headteacher, and I still have lots of questions to ask. I think that if you have no more questions to ask then it is time to get out of the job.


EduTwitter can be a tricky place to navigate. There are times when an argument between tweeters can carry on for days and days and seemingly not end. And then there are the perennial arguments that seem to occur at the start of every holiday. I hope that #PrimaryRocks is somewhere where people can share their work and people will react positively about it. I am not saying that I don’t want debate; indeed, my main role in the edchats on Mondays is to probe and try to make people think deeper than their first 140/280 character responses. Sometimes, it might be challenging, but I think that you can challenge and clarify, debate and argue, without being confrontational or offensive.


From your vantage point, what are the biggest challenges currently facing Primary school teachers and SLT?


Assessment/accountability, school budgets and wellbeing. And these three are not exclusive to each other! There are 1700 pages of guidance that schools are not allowed to be privy to - this tells you everything you need to know about the assessment and accountability agenda of the current establishment. I am not against testing, per se, but what I am against is the high-stakes nature of the tests and the lack of use of the data that could be used to help children. The fact that many Secondary schools have their own CAT tests, often on transition days, tells you everything you need to know about the usefulness of end of KS2 SATs for children’s actual education.


Schools budgets are at breaking point, and although this is not necessarily directly on the mind of classroom teachers every day, I can assure you that it is on the minds of SLT in Primary schools. Schools are punished for having experienced teachers who are passionate about their school and who may want to stay in the classroom. If schools have too many experienced teachers, their budget is crucified for it, meaning that either schools are on a constant treadmill of training and sending teachers on, or they have to make other cuts elsewhere. This is now becoming a crisis despite the government telling us that schools are getting more money than ever.


Mental health and wellbeing is something that needs to be carefully considered in schools. Teachers need to make sure they look after themselves as well as leadership putting in place strategies to reduce workload and pressure. As Simon Smith so wonderfully put it: SLT have to be the cr*p-umbrella, protecting their staff!


What edtech and resources would you recommend the most for Primary schools in 2018?


We will be looking at moving towards using Google Classroom for both ease-of-workflow and so that children can work at home, being able to collaborate with others beyond school time. It is a big shift for us, and one that will present many challenges I am sure!


Other resources would be the use of picture books throughout the school. It fascinates me that picture books are allowed to be confined to Key Stage 1 and Early Years, but so many good books that deliver powerful messages are overlooked because they are picture books. EYFS teachers I know can’t help themselves when they pass the picture book section in a book shop; they have to go in for a rummage for their class. I would like that to be the same for all teachers too!


What do you and the #PrimaryRocks team hope to achieve this year?


Hopefully, we can live up to the expectations for the live event. Preparations are in full swing and we can’t wait to see everyone. I would love for #PrimaryRocks to have more hosts - just send me a direct message on Twitter (@gazneedle) if anyone is interested! I would also like to host a #PrimaryRocks staff meeting one Monday to engage teachers that are not necessarily into EduTwitter, but not sure if it would work!


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