It was a strange week in which I found myself working in a new school, heading up one of the “hub schools” that have remained open in the Isle of Man to children of key workers and vulnerable children. Here’s how I got on…
In early to find my bearings and to get my head around everything for the day and week ahead. Even though I came to Onchan School as a boy, there was an odd unfamiliarity about the situation. Staff were turning up from various schools in the Isle of Man, deployed on a rota system, to look after children from several “feeder” schools. An interesting set of circumstances in which to find oneself.
Arranging safeguarding procedures, making sure everyone knew who the named DSL for the week would be, and checking simple things such as where fire-alarm systems were, who the key-holders were and making sure lunch arrangements were sorted filled the first part of the day.
In the afternoon the Minister for Education (@allinson_alex) made an unannounced, but welcome visit to check that everything was running smoothly. He promised additional hand-sanitizer later in the week for the front-line staff working in the hub school. I also had a couple of phone calls with the National Secretary of NAHT (@rob_kelsall) to discuss some of the Isle of Man members’ concerns about the Hub model and how we could respond to those.
The day passed quickly enough, and I was amazed – and proud – of the teachers and children who had settled into these new arrangements very quickly and with the minimum of fuss.
Into school and was greeted by a new caretaker. Like the teaching workforce, the cleaning and maintenance staff from the Island’s schools have been redeployed across the few remaining hub schools. This means there have been several new faces to get to know inside just a couple of days. The idea at Onchan is to conduct a “deep clean” as it is staying open but to do this around the provision.
Yesterday I felt that our staff numbers were too high for the number of students in the building – it was hard to anticipate pupil numbers when we devised the rota system last week, but after a quick WhatsApp chat with the other hub leads it is agreed that I can start sending some staff home to work.
In classrooms, Joe Wicks (@thebodycoach) – previously unknown to me – is making his daily broadcast into our classrooms: each of which houses a very small number of children so that social distancing can be practiced. The feeder schools who can access our hub would have over 800 children in total – but today, just 11 are present. Low attendance, as it should be.
I log-in to join a Zoom Conference Call – the Coronacast Chat – organised by UK headteacher Simon Kidwell (@simonkidwell) and there are over 100 school leaders and colleagues online for a discussion about how schools are managing their closures, reopening to key worker’s children for child care and the issues arising out of it all. It’s reassuring to be able to share thoughts with experienced colleagues going through the same issues as us. The hub model, not unique to the Isle of Man but by no means the prevalent system, does not appear to be favoured by the majority of UK colleagues. The challenge in the Isle of Man is to make this model work for us and our circumstances.
Today we are joined by a sports coach from Manx Sport and Recreation and it’s a welcome chance for our pupils to try something different and get a break from the four walls of their rather empty classrooms. The small numbers make social distancing possible and the sports coach has clearly thought carefully about devising games and activities that allow the children to maintain their distance from one another.
I record a video message for my own schools (@DhoonSchool @LaxeySchool) and post it out on our social media channels – I feel it is important to try and maintain a sense of community and connection with the schools I lead. I miss them very much at the moment.
Later in the day we are visited by the substantive headteacher of Onchan School (@JoRichIOM), and one of the four “hub leads” that will be overseeing this hub. We have a quick catch up – two metres apart! – about how the week has gone so far. It’s always good to chat with my colleagues and it feels like a real team effort.
Manx Radio have been in touch and are keen to speak to some of our pupils about their experiences of attending a hub school. A video link via Skype is arranged and broadcaster / journalist William King (@WilliamKingIOM) speaks to five of our students to gather their thoughts. Teacher Miss Sumner and I also give a few remarks and comments and the children are excited at the prospect of listening to themselves on the radio (@ManxRadio).
I take a call from the Isle of Man’s Director of Education who is checking in with the hub schools on a weekly basis. He seems very pleased with the response from the Manx teaching profession and workforce, and praises the spirit of cooperation and determination to help. I’m all to happy to echo these sentiments – yes, this is a horrendous crisis and is bringing a death toll that nobody wants to see: but at the same time it is bringing out the best in teachers and everyone has rolled up their sleeves to be part of the national effort to defeat COVID19.
For the second time this week the Minister of Education makes an unannounced visit to the hub – this time to personally deliver the hand sanitizer he promised on Monday. I’ve been really impressed with the leadership of our national politicians in the Isle of Man – it cannot be an easy job and the visibility of the Education Minister has been a reassuring and settling presence for the teachers.
In classrooms I continue to be amazed at the ingenuity of the teachers in creating learning opportunities and providing child care activities that are both purposeful and engaging. There have been smiles and the sounds of laughter all week, and our new community – literally “thrown” together in a matter of days – has found hope, comradeship and comfort in one another’s company.
In the afternoon I take a call from the headteacher at Ashley Hill School who is assuming command of the hub from Monday. We go over one or two handover issues and I prepare to leave for two weeks of working from home. The hub will remain open over what would have been the Easter holidays including the bank holidays. Like everyone else, I have no idea how long these arrangements will remain in place or when we can return to our own schools to open them back up. For now, I remain on standby to go into the hub in the case of a staff shortage and await my next turn on the shift rota to be on duty as hub lead.