A year in the life of a school

Week 6: Poppies and Politics

In the sixth 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 11th October

It promises to be the start of an exciting week in the Laxey and Dhoon Federation with the arrival of children’s author Peter J Murray who will be spending a few days at both schools delivering inspiring presentations and doing book signings. I arrive early to Dhoon, just before 8am; it is a cracking day. One of those beautiful autumnal mornings of crisp cold air and blue sunshiny sky. Gorgeous. 

Peter arrives and brings with him his wife Kath. When I originally booked Pete to visit us, it was pre-covid and his latest book Poppy Warrior fitted in with our plans to commemorate 100 years since the end of WW1 which were going to last for a substantial time. Anyway, the rest is history, and meeting Pete in the car park today reminds us both of how difficult it has been to get this visit to go ahead – nearly two years in the making! 

The presentation is excellent and takes up the morning. Peter’s stories usually have a spooky theme, and Poppy Warrior is no different. Ghostly figures, a haunted school and strange goings-on all feature in the story, but it also deals with some other big ideas around war, death, cowardice, and remembrance. It hooks the children’s interest and there is a buzz about books, reading – and writing, for the rest of the day. 

Author Peter J Murray working with our KS2 children: Poppy Warrior Presentation

As the school day draws to a close I log on to our school Zoom account to get ready for parents’ evening – the first of four between tonight and Thursday night; two at Dhoon and two at Laxey. During the national lockdowns we offered our parent’s evening consultations online, and they were a great success using the Zoom platform. We then explored parent feedback and decided to retain a remote offer on this occasion even though we’re no longer in lockdown. We’ve opted for a hybrid event, with one night offering remote appointments and a follow up night offering physical appointments. We’ve also launched an online booking system which has been used to schedule the appointments, so it’s time to put it all to the test and see how well it has worked. 

My job is to manage the queue into the virtual meetings, and at around 7.00 I let the last set of parents in. Zoom has worked well again – you can read about how to manage a parents’ evening on Zoom here

It’s been a long day. Before I head home, I drop into the PAG public hustings between the candidates for the Chief Minister election; Education Minister Alex Allinson and Treasury Minister Alfred Cannan are both standing and must secure a simple majority of MHKs in a vote tomorrow. Based on everything I’ve seen and heard, I have a suspicion which candidate is going to be elected tomorrow.  I get home just after 8.30pm and head for a soak in the bath. 

Postive Action Group (PAG) Public Hustings – Chief Minister Election

Tuesday 12th October

I arrive first thing at Laxey School. We’ve been struggling with staff absences this half-term, and we have some key staff off work again today. My Head of School has done a great job juggling the timetable to ensure we are covered, but it’s not easy. We’ve had another member of staff with a positive PCR result and another teacher is due to have some elective surgery today, so it’s all hands on deck. 

I head to Ramsey Swimming Pool mid-morning to take my usual swimming groups with Dhoon School and then return to Dhoon for the afternoon. Peter Murray and his wife Kath arrive just after lunch and we set them off on a book signing spree. Yesterday’s presentation has certainly encouraged lots of our pupils to buy a copy of Poppy Warrior

News filters through that Alfred Cannan has been elected as the Isle of Man’s Chief Minister. It will be interesting to see who he now appoints to the Manx Cabinet, COMIN, especially as Education Minister. 

By the early evening I’m letting those parents into school who have requested a face-to-face meeting. We have the usual C19 mitigations in place – hand sanitizer, windows open and disposable face coverings available for those who choose to wear them. Some of my staff are wearing coverings tonight – cases on the Isle of Man are creeping up again and it appears we’re at the start of another wave just in time for the winter months. 

Another late evening, another 12+ hour day. I don’t feel great – my eye is sore and I have a banging headache. I test negative on an LFD and decide to get to bed. 

Wednesday 13th October

Not feeling great again, but an early morning LFD test gives me another negative reading. I get into Laxey School and wait for Peter and Kath to arrive to get set up for the Poppy Warrior presentation, this time in Laxey School. 

Just after 9am I start welcoming our junior classes into the hall for the presentation. Once again, Peter has them hooked, and the talk around the school is books, books, books – especially Poppy Warrior

Author Peter J Murray working at Laxey School with his Poppy Warrior presentation

I’ve been exploring the idea of entering the world of politics – anyone who reads my blogs will already have a sense that politics is a genuine interest of mine (a recent example called “Prime Ministers Vs Headteachers can be found here.) I use my lunch hour (something I hardly ever take) to visit President of Tynwald* The Hon Laurence Skelly MLC to discuss the current vacant seats on Legislative Council, and to learn about the election process and what the role may entail. 

I’m keen. I am certain that I’d like to be a Parliamentarian at some point in my life. I thought long and hard about standing in the recent General Election, but concluded that there were already candidates standing who were advocating my politics and views in the constituencies I could have conceivably stood in. There were a couple of other personal reasons too and in the end I ruled it out at that time, choosing instead to campaign for education. (You can read the NAHT manifesto for education here and there are a series of blogs about the NAHT education husting here.) The recent industrial dispute was entangled with widespread professional opposition to an Education Bill, and I contributed to the process by submitting views on behalf of NAHT members in the Island. It involved looked deeply at the proposed legislation, reviewing it, and thinking about the implications. It involved testing our views with legal practitioners, and offering alternatives. And it involved lobbying politicians right up until it was finally withdrawn. This experience of scrutiny of legislation has certainly encouraged me to think whether acting as an MLC would be something I could do for the Island.  

It would involve a pay cut, so it’s not something I’m considering for financial gain. And Mr President outlined some serious considerations that I’m going to have to take into account – there are conversations about reducing the number of MLCs, and this particular term is for just over one year. So it would be a huge personal gamble. I’d need the backing of four MHKs to get on the ballot paper – of those I’ve sounded out so far, I’m not able to find four definite backers. The election looks like it will be strongly contested and I may be a bit late to the game as it sounds as though some MHKs have already been approached by others.  

My final consideration is that I LOVE my job in the Laxey / Dhoon Federation, so giving it up would be a BIG ask. I have some thinking to do. 

The evening sees me logging back into Zoom to host the Laxey site’s virtual parents’ evening. Again it runs very well and I’m delighted at the success of the online booking system we introduced. It really has made the whole process so much easier. 

Laxey is a bigger school than Dhoon, and the appointments run on a little later than they did on Monday and Tuesday. I finally get home just before 9pm. 

* Tynwald – the name of the Manx Parliament.

Thursday 13th October

It’s our last day seeing Pete and Kath and they return to Laxey School to do a book signing. The children are so excited to get their hands on a copy of his book, and my hope is that they will enjoy reading the story this week and into half-term. Promoting a love of books and a desire to red for pleasure is a big part of what I want my schools to do. I make sure we have a couple of copies of the book for both school libraries too, so that it is available to any child who wants to read it. 

Another day, another parent’s consultation event. This time it is the turn of Laxey to host physical meetings. It all seems to run Ok and finishes only ever-so-slightly later than planned, and I’m relieved to get home a little bit earlier at around 7.30pm. I crack, and pour myself a glass of wine tonight. It feels deserved! 

Friday 14th October 

We gave everyone the first couple of weeks off before returning to Celebration Assemblies, and last week’s were the first for this academic year – though I missed them as I was in London for the NAHT Officials and Policy Conferences. So, I’ve really been looking forward to today and being a part of our traditional Friday fun. 

The Learning Hero Assembly at Laxey School is first up, and after the awards are handed out we invite the certificate winners into The Hub to join the staff for a hot chocolate and biscuit. This year we’ve decided to share video footage of the assemblies because during the lockdowns the assemblies shifted to Zoom and parents loved being able to watch them. I’ve been keen to take the positives from lockdown and retain them in normal times. I edit the video together using TikTok (offline) to give it a contemporary feel but I stress in the accompanying post that nothing is uploaded to TikTok: I don’t have parental permissions and it’s a platform that I’m just not familiar enough with at the moment, though I am learning. The video editing tool is easy enough though and the text and stickers feature give it a different edge over iMovie which I had been using for lockdown videos. All this tech is stuff I’ve really had to get my head around during and since C19! I’m just about keeping up!

Leading the Celebration Assembly at Laxey School – always a highlight of my week

At lunchtime news breaks that Onchan MHK Julie Edge has been appointed Education Minister. I put a tweet out about it:

I arrive at Dhoon ready for the High Five Assembly and like I did for Laxey, I stitch together some video footage afterwards and make it available to parents. 

6.30pm swings by, and I’m letting pupils and parents back into school for our Beetle Drive Night. I’m a little caught out by how popular it is and how many turn up – such brilliant support for the school, and I’m sure it will generate some much needed income for us. As the Beetle Drive gets underway, I look around the room at my hard-working staff team who have all given up a Friday night to be here. They’re brilliant, and it is because of them that the evening runs so smoothly – though Mrs Cleator from Maughold Social Club was organiser-in-chief and deserves a big “thank you” too. 

A busy night at the Dhoon School Beetle Drive

The Beetle Drive finishes just before 9pm, and by the time we clear up and empty the building and lock up, its gone 9pm before I set off for home for a take away and a little something to wash it down. Another 12+ hour day.

As always, there is so much more that goes on each week in school – and I can’t include everything in each blog as I’d never stop writing… but I do need to mention the hockey tournaments that both schools took part in this week and the first aid training that Class 3 pupils at Dhoon School undertook. It really is a busy federation to be involved with – there is always something happening!

They say it is always beer-o-clock somewhere in the world. In Max’s world, that time is now…

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