A year in the life of a school

Week 1: Covid Bustings And Election Hustings

In the first of an ongoing series of blogs for the 2021-2022 academic year, Executive Headteacher Max Kelly captures his week working in primary schools in the Isle of Man. As the year goes on he hopes his blogs will paint a picture of a “Year In The Life Of A School”….

Monday 6th September 2021

A new dawn. A fresh term. An academic year of the brand spanking variety, ready to begin.

I arrived early to school to make the final preparations for a staff in-service day. We were based at Laxey School for this session as this building is home to our professional meeting facility, The Hub, but the staff of both schools in our federation would be in attendance.

First stop was the staff room to set the table with Danish pastries, croissants, flapjacks and other treats. This should help provide some ongoing energy to the team throughout the day.

From there, in a whirlwind of “hello’s” and “hasn’t the summer gone quick?” the staff started to arrive and the school slowly ticked back into life.

I started our first meeting, a gathering of the full team of teachers, administrators, support staff, caretakers and cleaners, with a review of what had gone before, and some vision setting for what I wanted to achieve this year and beyond. I looked around the table – we are certainly blessed with a talented team of staff with a clear sense of purpose and drive. It has taken time to stitch this group together, and today I welcomed six new faces into the fold feeling confident we’ve recruited the right people over the summer.

Inservice training day in The Hub at Laxey School
Signalong training session for all staff in the Laxey / Dhoon Federation

After my scene-setting introduction it was straight into signalong sign language training, again, for the entire workforce. On Wednesday we welcome a new pupil with Down syndrome into our inclusive family, and we’ll be able to communicate with her so much better if we can incorporate signing into our day-to-day practice. Later, the staff team film a video with some key signs that they’ve learned. This is shared on our website and social media feeds so that parents and pupils can pick-up some signing too. The more we can do the better, and the whole school can learn together.

Tuesday 7th September

Another early start for another day of inservice training and preparation. Today I welcomed the Safeguarding Officer from the Department of Education, Sport and Culture into school to lead Level 2 Child Protection and Safeguarding training with my full staff team. Safeguarding business is everyone’s business, and this regular refresher was extremely beneficial. We reviewed our school’s procedures for safeguarding, reporting concerns, and revisited our statutory duties to make sure that everybody understood. We have very experienced and diligent Designated Safeguarding Leads in both of my schools and I am always reassured to know that this vital area is something we are able to manage with confidence.

Later, my two SENCOs talk the staff through an update to some of our special needs procedures; they’ve worked incredibly hard in the lead up to today’s session in reviewing our current practice and making careful refinements to improve the SEN experience for staff, parents, and, most importantly, pupils. We cast the net far and wide when recruiting for a new SENCO last year, and we were incredibly pleased to find someone from the UK who had specialist knowledge, extensive experience and glowing references. The positive impact of that key appointment is starting to be felt across my schools now which is fantastic.

One of my two Heads of School and I had spoken to local media reporters (Gef Isle of Man) about the preparations our federation of schools had been undertaking over the summer. Obviously we get to take some time off when the schools are closed, but one common misconception is that teachers have six weeks off. It just isn’t feasible to imagine taking that amount of time off as Head, and I’ve spent a lot of time in school over the summer as have my leadership team. We have building work going on, classroom move-arounds to prepare, deliveries and resources arriving and needing to be set up… and on top of all of that we need strategic planning meetings to arrange timetabling for the new year, school improvement priorities, and this year we needed to think about C19 and the mitigation plan and risk assessment that would need to be in place and widely shared before we could let the children back. I spoke to Gef about the C19 considerations we had been planning for, and my Head of School talked about the steps we’d taken to ensure that our new starters would be given the best possible beginning to their primary school careers.

Gef Article 7.9.2021

Max interview with Sam Turton from Gef The Mongoose

Wednesday 8th September

I always look forward to the first day the pupils start. School starts to feel like school again. Being in charge of two schools always poses a tricky problem for me -which school do I begin the year at? I fret it sends a message about which school I prefer, or which group of students and parents I care more deeply about. Of course, that isn’t the case – I simply can’t be in two places at once, and this type of leadership guilt is something I have had to learn to live with. You can read more about my reflections on this in my blog Executive Leadership – You Can’t Be in Two places At Once

I decide that our new pupil with Down syndrome needs a special welcome, so I head to Laxey – we don’t have a unit at our school and this is the first time we’ve planned to provide specialist support within our mainstream setting, so it is a big moment and I’m keen we get off to the right start. I then spend the rest of the morning at Laxey School, mingling with parents out on the yard, and visiting each classroom to make sure I see all of our children.

New starters at Laxey School
New starters at Laxey School

Just after 9am I head into the sports hall with my Reception teacher and Head of School to lead a “welcome” meeting for our new parents. They’ve already met us at taster days last term, and in July we held a webinar with them to go through some key information, but there’s nothing quite like the personal touch on a first day to help settle and reassure anxious mums and dads. We have hand sanitiser available, there’s more than enough chairs out to encourage spaced seating and we keep the two sets of double doors open for increased ventilation. This is what our C19 mitigation plan looks like in practice.

Later that day, I head to Dhoon School to see the children there. I spend time in all the classrooms, and make sure I introduce myself properly to all of our new children. They all seem really happy which is fantastic.

New starters at Dhoon School

Back to Laxey in the late afternoon to get the hall set up for a public meeting. The Isle of Man General Election is taking place on 23rd September, and the island is in full election mode. Laxey School is in the Garff constituency, and five candidates are seeking one of two seats in our Parliament. Even though it is not a “school” event, I am keen that the school is seen at its best and the caretaker, Head of School and I make sure we have everything just right – working microphones, cold water on the table for the candidates, and all the C19 mitigations in place. I stay for the hustings – although I don’t have a vote in this constituency (I will be voting in the constituency down the road, where I live), I work in the two schools in Garff and I’m very interested to learn about the candidates, especially their views on schools and education.

General Election Hustings for Garff (L>R Gareth Young, Jamie Smith, Andrew Smith, Stephen Carter (Chair), Martyn Perkins, Daphne Caine)
Picture credit: Sam Turton, Gef The Mongoose

A late finish to the day – but it has been productive.

Thursday 9th September

Today I do the opposite of yesterday and begin the day at Dhoon School. There is lovely family feel and its gratifying to see the playground looking so busy. Dhoon is a small school, but we’ve just welcomed in the largest intake I’ve had since being Head here – double figures – and the future is looking bright.

I put the finishing touches to this month’s newsletter. The newsletter is always a big job – I insist that it is proof read twice (you have no idea how much people enjoy finding typos and mistakes in the work of a teacher – I have had various correspondence returned over the years, with red ink on occasion!) and we have to produce two versions, each tweaked to the individual school. There are then circa 300 copies to print, and it needs to be published to the website and social media feeds. All this usually happens over the space of the week leading up to publication (we always publish on the first Friday of each month) and its important to get this right. If we were to consistently screw up our comms, we’d eventually lose trust and confidence, so there is always a lot riding on getting this right. Of course, we also have a visible presence on the web and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – and all of that takes time to manage and get right too.

Once I’m happy with what I’ve seen, I ping the draft newsletter on to be proof read so that it can go to our Admin team in the morning for printing (they will tell you I am rarely this early, and we have had a few last minute deadline days. All my fault.)

My Head of School at Dhoon has planned a way to help build community and make sure that all of our new parents get to know one another. We meet to discuss the final bits and pieces we need to sort for our first ever “Coffee and Chat” event – the idea being that we’ll provide a refreshment station (free, of course) on the playground in the half hour or so leading up to hometime. We’re hoping parents may arrive slightly earlier than usual to pick up their children, and while they’re waiting they can enjoy a cuppa and a chat in the late summer sunshine. My final task of the day is to make sure the Facebook ads go live.

Social media advert for our Coffee and Chat event

Friday 10th September

The week has gone so quickly – a blur of meetings, training, and lots of children. It has been hugely enjoyable and the tone has been set for the year ahead which looks positive and engaging. I decide to split the day between my schools, starting at Laxey. I call into each class before the children arrive to have a quick catch up with each member of staff to find out how their week has gone. Later I drop into the kitchen to congratulate our new cook on doing a tremendous job in her first week. It is never easy being dropped in and having to hit the ground running, learning the systems of the school as you go.

I have a couple of remote meetings scheduled in for mid-morning, first a team briefing, followed by an NAHT meeting to discuss our education campaign which we’re running during the Isle of Man’s general election period. Next week we’re staging four education hustings in four of the Island’s constituencies, and it’s the first time anything like this has been tried by a teaching trade union in the Isle of Man. I’m nervous about turnout and hope that we’ve advertised it adequately. Education is certainly the key to the future prosperity of the Isle of Man and I have confidence that the electorate recognises this and will want to test out their candidates’ views; but it’s taken a lot of work to organise so the nerves are real.

Later I head off to Dhoon School and spend an hour or two in my office catching up on paperwork, correspondence and signing. Its a never ending job, and I like to make sure I give it the attention it deserves; but I’m glad when I make some headway and can move on to getting set up for our Coffee and Chat event. The urn is switched on and the cups are set out… and before you know it parents start arriving and the atmosphere is fantastic. This is the sort of thing that is so important in the life of a school. Relationship-building is crucial, and it has to be meaningful and genuine. You can read my thoughts on developing people focussed relationships here

Coffee and Chat event

It’s been a busy week but I’m proud of the way my staff and my pupils have returned to school – there was real potential for lots of anxiety but our careful risk assessing and sensible precautions have meant that our mitigations have been pragmatic and reassuring.

We get the newsletters out – another deadline hit! And that brings week one almost to a close. This evening I will be representing my schools at a Civic Function to honour the work of Steve Rodan OBE who has recently retired from public service having served as the local parliamentarian for Laxey (Garff), holding the position of Speaker of the House of Keys, and latterly sat as the President of Tynwald. Mr Rodan also laid the foundation stone for Dhoon School when it had its extension in 2002, and he is currently a governor of Laxey School, so he has strong ties with both of my schools. The event is due to start at 7pm and I’m looking forward to being there to represent my schools along with a couple of my senior staff team.

Steve Rodan MBE laid the foundation stone of the extension block at Dhoon School in 2002. Mr Rodan was Minister for Education at the time.

After the Civic Function it will be time to head home for the weekend. They say it is always beer-o-clock somewhere in the world. In Max’s world, that time is fast approaching.

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