A year in the life of a school

Week 7: Leaving the Rat Race Behind And Heading for Half-Term

In the seventh 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 18th October

And so we enter the final week of the first half-term. I arrive at Laxey School and can sense that some staff are only just hanging on – lots of illnesses including C19 and resulting staff absences have taken their toll. Schools in the Isle of Man are significantly less staffed than their UK counterparts and when absences go up, there just aren’t any “bodies” in the building to redeploy around to cover gaps. We’ve done our best but we’ve just been so stretched at times. The news still rings in my ears that one local secondary school was having to close to some year groups this morning due to high levels of staff absence, so it’s an island wide issue at the moment.

The news headlines this morning show that some students at a local secondary school are having to work from home this week

The children come in happily enough and I do a quick round in the classrooms. My first appointment of the day is a visit from Breeshey Harkin, the Island’s Active Travel Officer who has called in to drop off some prizes for some of my pupils for their efforts in the recent Active Travel Week. I’m also surprised – but delighted – that there are a couple of certificates for some of my staff team who took part with some active journeys to work. It’s obviously just a bit of fun, but it adds some cheer to the day.

We head out onto the playground to discuss the bike shelters and scooter racks that I’ve ordered and scope out the best places to have them installed.

My next meeting is a visit from some officers from the Department of Infrastructure and Bus Vannin (the Isle of Man’s public bus company.) They bring news that Minorca Hill (the road Laxey School sits on) is due to be closed for four months. It’s a big deal and means access to our site will be restricted and difficult. The school bus won’t be able to use our bus stop and we knock around a few contingencies, although it is clear the school is being looked to for help with meeting the children off a stop around 10 minutes away from the site and walking the children in each day. The theory around this is fine, but it won’t be easy because of our staffing levels and the knock on effect of deploying two people off-site first thing in the morning means that our usual morning routines will have less staff to supervise. I agree to pitch our plan to my staff team at this week’s staff meeting.

I take the opportunity to check where we are up to with our social media advertising upcoming dates for Hop Tu Naa day, our Y6 Residential and cycling proficiency training. I get it uploaded and update the calendar on the school website.

I head into Dhoon School – the School Council have organised a two day Bake Sale to raise some money which will be split between the school and their choice of charity. I didn’t get up to Dhoon this morning, but there are plenty of cakes left this afternoon.

The School Council organised a Hop Tu Naa Bake Sale this week

Tuesday 19th October

I get into Laxey School early and I’m met with the news that another of our support staff is absent through illness. My Head of School has rejigged things again but it’s tight. Four days to hold on…

I’m hosting the Northern Headteachers for our half-termly cluster meeting this morning, and at just after 9am they start to arrive. We have a busy agenda which includes reviewing our C19 mitigations and putting forward feedback to DESC.

I’m called out of the meeting briefly to be told that a parent has phoned to say that the rats they were transporting in their car on the school run have escaped and there is evidence of the child’s packed lunch over the back seat. Could we check the lunch box in case the rat is in there? One thing is for sure, you never know what you’re going to be met with from one moment to the next in this job.

I have an appointment with a union member who I’m representing in a current case and head off to their school to discuss where we’re up to. As a union rep I have several cases on the go at any one time looking after our members. This case has rumbled on for a little while now and we agree on our next steps to try and bring about a satisfactory conclusion.

Before I head home I ask for a rat update. The lunchbox has signs of some nibbles, but alas, no rat. I’m relieved to hear later that the rat has been found and hadn’t been in school after all.

Wednesday 20th October

Our absent support staff member reports back in for duty which is a relief. I head up to Dhoon School and arrive in time to greet the children as they come in. The Open The Book team arrive and I head to the assembly hall to introduce them to the children.

The Open The Book team visit Dhoon School to lead an assembly where they bring Bible stories to life

Manx Radio arrive at Laxey School to record our school council describing objects which will be broadcast early in the new year as part of a phone-in game for listeners. They do a great job and represent themselves and the school really well.

The staff gather in the Hub for our staff meeting. I begin with some big “thank yous” to the team for their superhuman efforts this half term. We discuss the road closure on Minorca Hill before the Homework Task and Finish Group present the new homework policy and resources to the staff team. It is the result of extensive research, reviewing our existing provision and surveying pupils and parents. The new policy is now consistent across both schools and includes new parent guides, homework books for the children and a new homework club on both sites. We agree that we’ll launch the homework policy to parents on Friday and then begin straight after half-term.

Thursday 21st October

Another busy day and it’s great that one of our C19 teachers can return to work today.

I take some time to record a video message for parents about our new homework policy which we’ll release tomorrow when we launch the new policy and send home the parent guides. I also finalise the comms around our new Kids Fun Club after-school provision and sign the letters which are going home today.

Video message to introduce the new homework policy to our parent base

In the evening I head to one of the local secondary schools we are a feeder for, to see their autumn concert and Mhelliah. It’s a great event and it’s clear that St. Ninian’s High School has some very talented staff and pupils.

Friday 22nd October

It’s our highly anticipated Hop Tu Naa day and the children skip into school dressed in all manner of spooky costumes. Hop tu Naa is the oldest continuously-existing tradition in the Isle of Man. Celebrated on the 31st of October, Hop tu Naa is the Manx equivalent of Halloween, with some very important differences. Unmistakably, one of the key features of hop-tu-naa is the “moot” (turnip), which is hollowed out and decorated; there is also a range of popular folk songs with regional differences, in both English and Manx; there is a traditional folk dance still practiced across the Island today; and there are some unusual customs and supertitions which link back to the ancient Celtic beliefs about this time of year. We can’t celebrate in school on October 31st because we’ll be closed for half-term so we’ve brought it forward to today.

I spend the morning in Laxey School and sign for 400 apples which arrive. We’ll send a chocolate Hop Tu Naa apple home with every child across the Federation as a treat at the end of the day.

At 10am I head into the hall for our weekly celebration assembly. We have the external doors open to promote better ventilation and I always wear a face covering for whole school assemblies where we mix everyone together. It’s always a highlight of my week and it’s even more special for me today when my daughter’s teacher chooses her for a Magic Moment certificate.

Gracie was awarded a Magic Moment certificate in this week’s Celebration Assembly

At lunchtime I gather the team together to give them my personal thanks and best wishes for the half-term break, and I head off to Dhoon School.

The afternoon begins with a costume parade followed by some traditional folk dancing – the Hop Tu Naa dance.

My favourite part of the day is our traditional Conker Championships which we always hold on the last Friday before the October half-term. This tradition started 12 years ago and in all that time we’ve only ever produced boy winners. We are well overdue a girl champion, and this year’s heats have produced two girl finalists, so we’re guaranteed a girl winning this year. Alicia puts in a phenomenal performance and I’m delighted to crown her champion and give her the much coveted trophy.

A round up of the traditional Hop Tu Naa activities and Conker Championships at Dhoon School

The Laxey and Dhoon social media feeds have been very busy today with lots of photos and clips of all the fun in school, and I end the day with a final post to wish everyone connected with the school a very restful half-term.

Happy Half-Term everyone! Hope you all have a fab break. As always, thank you so much for all of your support; you make the school what it is 💛 Mr K and the team

I send a chat message to the staff on our MSTeams channel to congratulate them for everything they’ve done this half term and to wish them well. It’s been so challenging and I must admit, I’m really proud of what they’ve been able to pull off despite the difficulties. My message includes a brief summary off the top of my head of some of the highlights:

“WELL DONE – we have all made it through to half-term! A really challenging 7 weeks; lots of staff absences which somehow we’ve navigated our way through. You have all looked out for one another and you’ve all done a great job… as always!

In Wednesday’s staff meeting I listed some of the things we’ve still been able to achieve: parents evenings, a mhelliah, a beetle drive, Active Travel Week and the corresponding displays in the corridors (which look fab!!), first aid for children, hockey tournaments, sign language training, baseline assessments, a harvest festival, council meetings, clubs, author visits, dance workshops, road safety workshops, autumn walks, and today’s fabulous Hop Tu Naa extravaganzas. An immense effort – very well done.”

An extract from my message to my staff team at the end of the day

I finish off my signing and paperwork, and leave a fairly clear desk. I make a list of jobs for half-term and at 6pm I jump in the car and start the drive home.

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

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