A year in the life of a school

Week 2: Tram-endous Visit Shows We’re On The Right Tracks

In the second 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 13th September

This was the first “full” week back with the children and I am looking forward to getting my teeth into the new academic year after last week’s kick start to the Autumn Term. My day begins early with a call from my Head of School who has had a tough weekend with a health scare for his youngest child. Obviously he needs time with his child so we agree he can work from home. Our remote working protocols are so good now after the heights of the C19 pandemic and I’m comfortable with the set up and tasks we agree for the day. I head into Laxey School and the first major incident of the day occurs as the parents begin dropping their children off. The roads around Laxey were built for a different era and struggle to cope with the cars and traffic load of today. An incident sparks a chaotic scene and people are quite rightly worried about the safety of pupils, pedestrians and road users in the vicinity of the school. A small flurry of emails and phone calls to the school from various different perspectives start to arrive and the senior staff meet to discuss. Obviously the school has no authority or jurisdiction over the road, but we log the information we receive and decide to let the Police know that there has been an incident and that we’d welcome some advice and input to help make the road safer.

I spend the main part of the day in Laxey, visiting classrooms and talking to teachers and children about their teaching and learning. At lunchtime I throw my jacket on and help out with lunch duty outside.

The Isle of Man is a fiercely proud and autonomous nation; a common misconception is that we are part of the UK, but we are not. We have our own Parliament and Government, and on Thursday 23rd September the Isle of Man heads to the polls in a General Election. As well as having the privilege of working as a headteacher across two schools, I also have the proud honour of being Branch Secretary for the National Association of Head Teachers in the Isle of Man. Our branch has had a busy summer drawing up a manifesto for education and arranging a mini-series of hustings in the run up to the Isle of Man’s General Election. Tonight sees the first of these education-focussed hustings which we’re running in the constituency of Onchan. Several of the NAHT’s National team are visiting the island over the course of the week to help promote and run the hustings, and late afternoon sees me head down to their hotel to meet them and take them to Ashley Hill Primary School where our hustings event will be taking place.

Its always good to catch up with National Secretary Rob Kelsall and North West Officer Laura Flynn. They have Graham Gault, the President of NAHT in Northern Ireland with them. We’re all really encouraged to see all five candidates in the Onchan constituency turn out to participate in the hustings, and the event has generated an enthusiastic audience which provide a varied and interesting set of questions for the candidates to answer.

Pictured L>R: Rob Callister, Michael Leather, William Wood (NAHT, Chair for Hustings Event), Julie Edge, James Cherry, and Peter Willers.

You can see a full review of the Onchan hustings here

We’re all wrapped up by just after 9pm. Its been a great start to our hustings series, though I am a little taken aback when a lady who has been in the audience challenges me after the event to complain that I had rolled my eyes at the response of one of the candidates she was was supporting. I’m afraid I couldn’t agree with her assessment that such an action would negatively affect the candidate’s mental well-being – this was a public meeting where candidates were asking for my vote (I am a voter in this constituency) and rolling my eyes is pretty tame stuff in this kind of arena. The simple truth is the candidate had views that didn’t chime with my own, and I certainly won’t be giving them my vote.

After clearing up and a few lifts back to the hotel, I finally got home just before 10pm. It had been a long first day of the week, but hugely positive and it felt great that I’d been playing my part in talking up the importance of education in this election.

Tuesday 14th September

Another early start to the day, and it begins with my first visit to an airport in nearly two years because of C19. I collect NAHT General Secretary Paul Whiteman and NAHT National President Tim Bowen who have flown in from the UK to attend the Isle of Man Branch members’ meeting this evening. The first stop for us is the hotel in Douglas to pick up Rob Kelsall and Graham Gault, and from there we head to Manx Radio to do some media around their visit with a particular focus on our manifesto for education and the hustings we’ve been organising in the run up to the General Election.

The next stop is the Department of Education, Sport and Culture headquarters at Hamilton House. The Department has recently announced it will be relocating to greener premises in St. Johns, and so I’m aware this may be one of the final times I come to this building.

Paul, Tim and I meet with the Minister for Education, Alex Allinson, and CEO Graham Kinrade – a great opportunity to reflect on the positive landscape in education in the Isle of Man, and the positive industrial relations that exist. The new leadership at the department has done a terrific job in resetting the culture and NAHT are keen to acknowledge this.

Pictured L>R: Tim Bowen (NAHT National President,) Paul Whiteman (NAHT General Secretary,) and Max Kelly (Branch Secretary for NAHT IOM) outside the headquarters of the Isle of Man Government Department of Education, Sport and Culture

I manage to squeeze in an hour or two at school before heading off to Arbory School for the second NAHT hustings event. All candidates in the Arbory, Castletown and Malew constituency take part, and the room is full. Once again I am encouraged by the response of the candidates and the electorate to put education at the top of the agenda in this general election.

Pictured L>R: Steve Crowther, Jason Moorhouse, Tracy Willoughby (NAHT, Chair for Hustings Event), Graham Cregeen, and Tim Glover.

You can see a full review of the Arbory, Castletown and Malew hustings here

From the hustings I head to the NAHT members meeting in Douglas. The Isle of Man deputation address members and there are some branch updates which need to be discussed. The meeting closes just before 9pm, and with that I head back to the hotel for a quick drink with the team, before leaving them to it and heading home. I get in just after 10pm and take the opportunity to catch up on my emails and messages before calling it a day.

Wednesday 15th September

Now here is a first for me. I meet NAHT National President at the Douglas Tram station and we “commute” into Laxey by Tram on the Manx Electric Railway. It is a glorious Manx day of blue skies and sunshine, and Tim is visiting some of the schools in the North of the Island. I love being an ambassador for the Isle of Man, so showing off the Victorian tram system and arriving at my school in style is a great start to the day. I’ve arranged for pupil ambassadors to show Tim around Laxey School, and whilst he is being given the tour, I have some parental calls to make and some staff issues to catch up on and resolve. I also decide it is a good moment to sit quietly and give my attention to the pile of correspondence and paperwork that has accumulated on my desk.

NAHT National President, Tim Bowen, aboard the Manx Electric Railway Tram

From Laxey we head up to my other school in Dhoon. Again, Tim is given a tour by the pupils whilst I crack on with my seemingly never-ending “to do” list there. Once Tim departs I continue the rest of my afternoon at Dhoon, but see him again later with the rest of the Isle of Man deputation at our third hustings event in the Douglas East constituency. NAHT Regional officer Jason Ferraby has flown over to be at this one, too. We are joined by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association International Elections Observers who are on the Isle of Man in the run up to the general election to observe, and to ensure that the process is fair and rule-abiding. The team are pleasant and it is fascinating to chat to them and learn more about their work.

The hustings event goes well, though it is disappointing that just four out of the seven candidates in this constituency decided to participate. Those who did join in certainly spoke with genuine passion and commitment for education.

Pictured L>R: Peter Gilmour, Jonathan Ayres (NAHT, Chair for Hustings Event) Joney Faragher, Amanda Walker, and Michael Josem.

You can see a full review of the Douglas East hustings here

Thursday 16th September

I start the day at the Comis Hotel on the outskirts of Douglas for the termly meeting of all the Island’s headteachers with the central staff team from the Department of Education. The CEO delivers some updates before handing over to the Chief Constable and some of his senior team who lead a presentation and workshop on developing the working relationship between schools and the Police. There are various discussion points around information sharing, consistency of linked officers and regular opportunities to meet – it was a fantastic session and really positive to see the Police force reaching out and engaging Headteachers in this kind of strategic work.

I opt to work in Dhoon School in the afternoon and spend some valuable time in the classrooms and on the playground. The evening is the forth and final of the NAHT education-focussed hustings, and I arrive early at Ramsey Grammar School to prepare. Tonight I have the task of chairing the event, and I’m keen to make sure that everything is adequately set-up. We have an enthusiastic audience, including first time voters who are students at the school we’re hosting the event in (you can vote at 16 in the Isle of Man) and it’s fantastic to see that there are some young people really engaged in this election. Of the eight candidates standing in the constituency of Ramsey, seven accepted our invite to participate. It was a lively affair with a good range of questions – pleasing once again to keep the theme of education on the agenda in this election.

Pictured L>R: Alex Allinson, Robert Cowell, Erica Spencer, Max Kelly (NAHT, Chair for Hustings Event) Simon Mann, Luke Parker, Leonard Singer, and Lawrie Hooper.

Friday 17th September

My day starts with a meeting with a representative from the Department of Infrastructure before school and we discuss the recent traffic troubles on the roads surrounding the building. He says he will stay and observe the situation for himself so they he can report back to his team and look at possible solutions. The children start skipping in, and I welcome them and their parents as they arrive on our playground. I always love this part of the day, and I think it is really important to be visible and to speak to people, as that is a great way to build positive relationships and set the tone for the day.

My senior team and I have been looking at ways to improve communication, and there is no denying that Microsoft Teams is positioning itself as the default tool for this across Isle of Man Government. It certainly seems wise for us to be a part of this, and so I’ve invited Julie Wilson from Government Technology Services to lead some staff training in this area. This morning she calls in to meet with myself and my two Heads of School to map out what that programme might look like. We’re hoping to kick-start the training on Wednesday next week.

I spend lunchtime in my office making sure that I’m up to date with all of my paperwork. A member of staff has also requested a meeting with me, so we chat over a coffee. With that, it’s time to head off to Dhoon School. I need to meet with my school administrator to talk about our budget, and after our finance meeting its in to my office to look at my emails. The staff team have been preparing for the scenario that some children may have to isolate this term due to C19, and today was the deadline we’d agreed for preparing remote learning packs which could be used if children can’t come into school. We call this our “Emergency First Aid” strand of our Remote Learning Protocol. I review the packs that have been sent to me by the teachers – the next big job in relation to this is to load it on to our school website. The packs will be hidden and the links will be supplied to parents if / when their children test positive for C19 (obviously, we’d only seek to set work if the children are asymptomatic – if they’re ill they wouldn’t be expected to do learning.)

Our self-isolation plan for remote learning – to be used if a child cannot attend school due to C19 reasons.

I finish the week with my usual check of our school social media pages and website to make sure that they are displaying up to date information. My final task is to upload the PR for our extra-curricular offer at Laxey School which begins next week.

Our advert for our extra-curricular clubs offer at Laxey School.

Another week done and dusted – and I’m looking forward to the weekend. They say it is always beer-o-clock somewhere in the world. In Max’s world, that time is now.

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