A year in the life of a school

Week 8: Road Closures, Bus Stops and Fireworks

In the eighth 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 1st November

Back to school today following a week off for half-term. Well, I say “week off.” I still managed to find myself in school a couple of times last week tidying up paperwork and preparing some job adverts for some vacant positions. 

I arrive at Laxey first thing and the most striking observation is that the new school roof has been completed over half-term and the scaffolding is down. It’s a relief to see everything look a little more normal and I hope this is an omen for how the rest of the half-term will pan out. I should have known better than to hold such lofty hopes…

Minorca Hill, the road that serves Laxey School is due to be closed for some major infrastructure works. I met with the Department of Infrastructure (DoI) before half-term as it will have major implications for the school – not least because the bus stop will be taken out use and this will affect drop-off, pick-up and swimming sessions before we even start thinking about the incidental visits and school trips we frequently arrange. The road is scheduled to be closed for four months, but in their meeting with me before half-term, the DoI assured me that they would reach out and give adequate notice of the actual date of closure so that I could inform parents and make plans for how we would navigate our way through the challenges. As I head off to spend most of the day at Dhoon, I can’t help but notice there are a lot of road closure signs positioned around Minorca Hill. From Dhoon I telephone my Head of School at Laxey and ask him to do some phone calls to DoI and the bus company to confirm that the road is still open and the bus stop is still being used. I’m relieved to hear it is all still open and we can expect to receive adequate notice as previously promised…

I visit the classes in Dhoon School and catch up with all the various members of the staff team. After lunch I head back to Laxey as I have a meeting planned with a member of staff there. I walk into a panicked team – at 3.05pm the school received a phone call from the DoI confirming that the road had now been closed. This was followed shortly with a call from the bus company to say that the school bus stop was no longer in use and at the end of the school day (in 20 minutes time!!) we would need to get the bus children to a different stop – 10 minutes away on Ramsey Road. What followed was a race around for high-viz jackets, names of children who needed to catch the bus, and I hastily assembled a line of children to walk to the stop. That we managed to achieve this with such little notice is incredible. 

Back at school I pick up the phone to speak to the swimming pool to see what the bus stop changes mean for the swimming sessions. After trying in vain to reach colleagues at MSR (responsible for school swimming) and officers at DESC I take the decision to cancel tomorrow’s swimming session. It’s close to 5pm now and I just don’t have time to work out the logisitics and prepare the necessary staff rotas and risks assessments ahead of our first session in the pool first thing tomorrow morning. I’m not even sure what the bus times will be as I haven’t been given this information either. 

It’s a frustration because parents and the community will see this as a reflection on the school, and yet it is beyond our control. I can’t help but feel a little let down because the adequate notice I’d been promised had meant that I’d scheduled in time to start planning for the road closure over the course of this week, but I was never given that time in the end. The final confirmation gave me just 20 minutes notice. I go home, annoyed. 

Tuesday 2nd November

I’m in at Laxey School first thing. I don my high-viz and start the walk to the Ramsey Road bus stop. I messaged my staff team last night to let them know that I would meet the children off the bus this morning and walk them down to the school for the start of the day. I’m thankful its not raining. 

Back in school I’m able to get through to someone at the Department. They let me get a few frustrations off my chest, but the truth is I’m very calm this morning – a bit of distance between events and time to prepare solutions has certainly helped. I’m relieved when one of my solutions, a request for additional hours of employment of some support staff to help create a “walking bus” for the duration of the road closure is green-lighted with extra funding. I also speak to Active Travel Isle of Man who agree to send some of their team along to help staff the walking bus.

My next job is to work on a solution to the swimming situation. I’m determined that we won’t be missing out because of the road closure, and after a few phone calls and Teams meetings with various people in the Department and with Bus Vannin a plan is formed which will see swimmers split into two groups, each swimming for one half-term either side of Christmas, but with additional pool time to compensate for missing out for one of those two half-terms. This will need to be communicated out to parents – I can already sense that today’s cancellation hasn’t gone down well with everyone (myself included) and I have a missed call from one of the local MHKs (members of the Manx Parliament) with a message left to call back to talk through the road closure and how it affects swimming. 

By 10am I feel like I’ve done a full day, but head off nonetheless to Ramsey Swimming Pool where I still have teaching commitments with a group from Dhoon School. 

After the school lunch hour where I help with playground supervision I head to the Professional Development Centre in Santon for some training on staff suspensions, and staff warnings. Its led by an officer from the Attorney General’s chambers and is really useful and relevant. At 3.50pm I put a phone call in to Laxey School to see how the end of the day worked out in terms of getting the bus children up to their stop. I’m alarmed to hear reports of increased traffic on the road, particularly as it is officially closed. This just increases the dangers to the children in my new walking bus, so I ask the Police to consider increasing their presence on the entry points to the road at drop-off and pick up times. 

Wednesday 3rd November  

Today is a sad day. One of the ladies who give up their time to run an after school knitting club in Dhoon School recently lost her husband. Val is in fact a lady that I owe much to for being a positive influence on my career by giving me my first job with young people and children back in the day – you can read more about Val and the people who have had a positive influence on me here. 

I attend the funeral. Dhoon is a close-knit community and the village church is packed. The sun shines though and Jim is given the send-off he deserves. 

The local Commissioners have been in both schools throughout the morning, and I check we’ve done a big thank you on our social channels. Garff Commissioners are so good to arrange an annual “Daffodil Competition” and the gun is fired on that each November with bulb planting. We’ll see them again in spring with fully grown daffs and beautiful decorated pots! 

Later that afternoon I welcome the headteacher of Arbory School, Jonathan Ayres, into the Hub at Laxey to deliver our staff meeting. Jonathan is talking about the Investor in Children scheme that he leads across the Isle of Man that aims to promote and develop pupil voice especially through the structure of school councils. We decide to go for it at Laxey School; Dhoon have held IiC status for a number of years and there are great opportunities for inter-school collaboration especially with being part of a federation with Dhoon.

Thursday 4th November  

Into Laxey School and it’s straight on with the high-viz jacket and up to the bus stop at the top of Minorca Hill. If nothing else, this is helping getting my daily steps in: my smart watch isn’t sure what’s going on with my step count! 

Everyone is in and settled and the first of the NAHT local committee arrives ahead of a meeting we’ve called to catch up on some big-ticket items. The DESC/JTU partnership forum has been looking into some key areas and we’re keen to take feedback as well as discuss our union perspective on the current developments and workstreams that are happening across DESC post-Beamans. As ever, it is important to consider everything from our members point of view and make sure that they’re not disadvantaged in any way. 

The Hub at Laxey is a great meeting space, and the meeting is a hybrid of physical (with most of the committee in attendance), and online, with some members joining via Teams link. 

A member of staff asks to see me – they’ve stood on a nail on the playground which has gone through their shoe and into their foot. Not nice at all, but I must admit I’m relieved it’s an adult and not a child. Off to hospital they go for a tetanus jab. An inspection of the area of the playground where this has happened shows that it is where a lot of the scaffolding had been standing when our roof had been getting replaced. I immediately contact the contractors and ask that they return to the site and do another sweep around. I won’t be able to use the playground again until that is done. 

In the afternoon I head to Bunscoil Rhumsaa, the Island’s largest primary school, where DESC are holding a briefing about the newly proposed AEN code which is currently in a consultation period. The prize it offers in terms of securing funding sounds very positive, but in my personal view there are still areas which need to be worked out further and all of the implications carefully considered. However, in broad terms it does seem like a very good move from DESC, and I’m supportive of the principles behind it as explained. 

Friday 5th November

Somehow we’ve made it to Friday. I begin at Laxey School and do another walk up to the bus stop. 

Into Celebration Assembly – as always a real highlight of the week. It’s great to recognise the successes of our pupils, and this week our new staging gets a trial run ahead of its first official uses for our upcoming Remembrance service and Christmas productions. 

Introducing the Laxey School Celebration Assembly – always a highlight of the week!

I jump in the car and head up to Dhoon to do their High Five assembly and then turn my attention to the usual Friday comms and social media push. I put a focus on getting the swimming arrangements clearly explained in our monthly newsletter which is due out today, and do some PR for some exciting stuff next week – RockKidz, community Remembrance events.. it all promises to be very busy as always. 

Introducing the Dhoon School High Five Assembly – another weekly highlight!

I spend a bit of time, as usual on a Friday, trying to clear my admin, paperwork and emails, but it’s clear I’ll have to put some time in over the weekend. No change there then. A parent has requested a meeting at my earliest opportunity, so I get that arranged and in the diary for Monday morning. 

The school day ends with the publication of our newsletters, and the usual social media push to get that communicated effectively across our parent community.

Hear on the news that the CEO of the DoI has stood down from his position with immediate effect

I leave school the earliest I have done for ages.. I want to get home to get set up for the back garden fireworks display we’re doing as a family, mainly for our little 5 year old girl. I say “display” but it’s a box of about 10 fireworks and a packet of sparklers, but it’ll be fun.

Gracie enjoying our family fireworks evening.

They say it is always beer-o-clock somewhere in the world. In Max’s world, that time is now. Boom – happy fireworks night. 

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