A year in the life of a school

Week 5: Bovril Prevents That Sinking Feeling

In the fifth 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 4th October

I arrive early into school – another week starts without a caretaker and cleaner at Laxey School, and I’m keen to make sure that we can retain the little bit of cover we’ve been given. Even though we’ve had a weekend, I can sense that the staff team are flagging in terms of morale. They are a fantastic bunch, but we’ve been stretched of late and the news that our school still won’t be as clean as we need it to be is difficult to take. I get in touch with the Department of Education, Sport and Culture – I first raised these concerns in June, in a wider context, but as of today I still haven’t had a reply to my letter or follow-up emails. 

We have arranged to sell tickets on the playground this morning for our mhelliah*, our thinking is there will be a captive market at drop-off time. Without a caretaker, a large (and I mean large) pile of leaves has accumulated at the main entrance, so before we set up the table for the tickets I find a yard brush and start to sweep up. It’s not quite the start to the day I’d envisaged!

Advert for the Laxey School Mhelliah

The children come in happy, which is always a positive sign, and I spend the next part of the morning visiting classes, saying hello and trying to keep everyone’s spirits up. 

At lunchtime I throw on my jacket and join in with duty outside – we have two lunchtime ancillarys absent from work which is making this part of the day more challenging to manage. I never get chance to take a lunch break – in headship, there is no such thing. Today I don’t even manage to grab anything at my desk. I make a mental note to make sure I bring something easy in tomorrow; Bovril perhaps. 

*mhelliah – a traditional Manx event where fresh farm produce is auctioned off for extortionate amounts of money! It usually involves lots of fun, lots of alcohol and lots of money. 

Tuesday 5th October

I decide to base myself at Dhoon School today and start the day out on the playground to meet and greet the children and parents as they arrive. I am due to teach some swimming groups later in the morning, but have a Teams meeting with the NAHT immediately beforehand, so I book a meeting room at the swimming pool and head on in to do the meeting before taking my groups. 

The NAHT are planning to invite the recently elected MHKs to a parliamentary briefing and we meet to discuss the initial planning for this. We are keen to reflect the issues being experienced in our schools and talk about capturing some authentic data via a members survey in advance of the briefing. 

After teaching my swimming class I head back with the pupils to Dhoon School where I spend the remainder of the working day. I take the opportunity to visit the classrooms, and also catch up on the various paperwork that has built up on my desk. 

No lunch again, and my Bovril cravings remain. 

I finish the day with a few reminders on social media about the Harvest Celebration Assembly at Dhoon in the morning. We’re asking for donations for the IOM FoodBank and we’re hoping to get as brilliant a response as usual. 

Wednesday 6th October

I’m up and into Dhoon School bright and breezy, but our fabulous Cleaner-in-Charge has already got the seating and the tables set out in the hall ready for the Harvest Celebration. We always like the Harvest Assembly to be a community event and we have an open invite to our parents, grandparents, families and friends to come on in and join us. 

We have a really generous collection of foodstuffs for the FoodBank which the children bring in with smiles on their faces.

The generous collection of donations from the pupils and families at Dhoon School for the IOM FoodBank

At 10.15 I open up the doors to the public and we get a steady trickle of guests arriving. Nigel from the Church over the road arrives with his wife, and at 10.30 the children come down for the assembly. It is a lovely occasion and the singing is beautiful. In the midst of all the recent staffing challenges and C19 management, it is the sort of event that lifts the spirits and reminds you why you do this job. 

Photos from the Dhoon School Harvest Festival
Some singing from the Harvest Assembly

I did remember to bring something in for a bit of sustenance today, but I get a bit of stick for choosing Bovril. I thought it was quite nice. I think I’m on my own with this one though. 

In the afternoon I head to Laxey School to meet an officer from the Department of Education for a general catch up, but I mention again about the caretaking and cleaner situation and how desperate I am for someone from head office to offer some better advice than “manage as best you can.” We need a solution and fast. 

The staff team stay late into the evening to continue setting up the displays in the corridor with all of the great work that the children did last week in Active Travel Week. Our aim is to have the displays completed in time for Parents’ Evenings next week. The staff team always do a great job at showcasing the children’s work and it promises to be an eye-catching and inspiring end result.

I get home and go through the agenda for the national NAHT Officials and Policy Conference which takes place in London tomorrow. 

Thursday 7th October

The day starts extra early as I make sure I am packed for my trip to London. I used be a fairly frequent flyer; C19 put paid to that and this will be my first time off the Isle of Man since the pandemic started. 

My first business of the day is to attend the half-termly Primary Heads meeting. We hear updates from the Department, but its lightweight stuff in all honesty. 

From there I head to the airport and meet with the Isle of Man delegation travelling down to London. Most of the local NAHT executive committee will be going which means there will be plenty of opportunity to chew the fat with colleagues to help deepen and consolidate the take-home learning. 

Extraordinary Leaders for Extraordinary Times… the slogan for the NAHT Officials and Policy Conference 2021

Our flight arrives late into Birmingham, and from there we travel by train to Euston, before sharing a black cab over to Westminster Bridge. We are staying in a hotel at the end of the bridge overlooking the Houses of Parliament and close to the London Eye. We check in and head over to County Hall where the conference is taking place.

The UK Secretary of State is visiting conference and I am selected to attend a private session so that I can highlight the recent, failed, education bill in the Isle of Man and ask how he intends to ensure good governance in the IOM so that any future attempt to legislate in this area does not include the draconian and backward clauses that meant it was simply not fit for purpose. We have developed good links with Westminster politicians during the industrial dispute, and we remain keen to keep them sighted on what happens in the Isle of Man.

The evening is a lovely occasion – the Officials’ Dinner. It’s fantastic to see valued colleagues for the first time in years and catch up properly. 

At the entrance to the NAHT Officials and Policy Conference 2021

Friday 8th October

After breakfast the delegates meet on Westminster Bridge to campaign to #FundOurChiuldrensFutures. I tweet that this national campaign rings true for the IOM too, and it’s a message we’ll be bringing back to the Isle of Man as part of our parliamentary briefing. 

My tweet just before joining hundreds of colleagues on Westminster Bridge to campaign for better school funding across the nations.

Conference business takes up the morning, and I’m a little embarrassed when a pre-record I’d been asked to do is played out to a full conference room. It seems to go down alright though, and is well received. I just wasn’t quite prepared for seeing my face on such a big screen. The Isle of Man delegation is invited to stand and we accept a round of applause on behalf of our members for their hard work, sacrifices and commitment during the recent industrial dispute. Although the dispute ended a little while ago now, this is the first chance for Conference to recognise the achievement of our members. 

NAHT National Secretary Rob Kelsall tells Conference about the successes in the Isle of Man
My pre-record for Conference which was played out on the Friday morning.

After lunch we move into the Policy Conference and hear from various speakers before voting on an array of motions. 

The NAHT Gala Dinner concludes the day; we are joined by the General Secretary, National President and Amanda Speilman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, is in attendance too. 

The Isle of Man branch is proud to be a part of NAHT – our own branch has exisited for over 50 years to represent Manx teachers on Manx issues. The expertise and wider support of the national union in helping progress a Manx voice for Manx matters is amazing and shows the power of nations working together. 

In the main exhibition of NAHT Officials and Policy Conference 2021

Saturday 9th October

I land back in the Isle of Man at 3pm, and have a quick turnaround before heading out to Laxey for the school mhelliah. We have a great crowd turn out to support us, and the atmosphere is good natured and fun. We manage to raise around £5k and by the time the last guest departs and my deputy and I finish clearing up its gone 11pm.

The Laxey School Mhelliah was a great success. Great to have made it back from NAHT Conference in London to be at this event.

It’s been a full on and busy week. Hats off to my two Heads of School who picked up the leadership of the schools on Thursday afternoon and Friday whilst I was away: they oversaw school photos day at Dhoon, and the Manx Care Flu Vaccine Programme visit to primary aged children in both schools. 

They say it is always beer-o-clock somewhere in the world. In Max’s world, that time is now… or maybe I’ll go for a Bovril this week. 

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