A year in the life of a school

Week 10: The Weeks Move Into Double Figures and A Quarter of the Year is Completed

In the tenth 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 15th November

Arrived at Laxey School and straight into the High Viz and a walk up Minorca hill to do the Walking Bus from the temporary school bus stop. This is the third week of the road closure right outside the school, but it is scheduled to remain closed for 4 months. So 3 and half to go! If nothing else, at least it is helping me log more steps each day. The fitness part of my AppleWatch doesn’t know what’s going on recently with all this extra exercise!

The Walking Bus has received some positive recognition on the Isle of Man Active Travel Facebook page; good PR is always useful! But I’m actually quietly pleased that my staff have been given a bit of a nod, as they are doing this each day on a largely voluntary basis.

I can’t make the federation steering group meeting this afternoon because it clashes with a professionals meeting I’m keen to attend with the DESC Autism and Social Communication Liaison Officer. I ask my heads of school to co-chair the Steering Group and I focus on the professionals meeting which is really important as it affects the provision and strategy for a child and I’m committed to getting things right for the young person concerned and their family. 

Tuesday 16th November

I start the day in Laxey School and spend the first part of the morning catching up on some prep for our upcoming Inclusion Quality Mark reviews. I lead two schools which are absolutely committed to being as inclusive as possible and the reviews help us shine a spotlight on our ethos, provision, plans and approach to making sure that we have this important aspect just where we’d like it. Inclusion extends beyond SEN/AEN; how are staff inducted and made to feel part of the team? How are parents communicated with? What is the greeting like that visitors to the school can expect to receive? How well does the school liaise with external agencies and outside partners? How do teachers reduce barriers to learning through their planning and lesson delivery?… It’s a wide remit, and I’m keen that we continue to evolve and improve all the time in this space. 

At 10.30 I jump in the car and head to Ramsey Swimming Pool to meet Dhoon School who have their weekly swimming session – I teach a group and they’ve made good progress recently. As I pull into the car park my phone rings and the Head of School at Dhoon informs me that the bus hasn’t arrived at school. We eventually get to the bottom of things, but there’s no denying there has been a cock up somewhere along the line at the bus depot, and a vehicle wasn’t dispatched to the school. It means that Dhoon have missed their session this week. It is frustrating, especially after the escapades with the swimming arrangements for Laxey School a couple of weeks ago. But these happen happen I guess. The parents who have travelled to sit in the spectators gallery are understanding when I explain what has happened. 

There is also the problem of Laxey School who cross-over with Dhoon at this point: their swimming groups get on the bus that the Dhoon children get off. No Dhoon bus means no bus back to Laxey School… another round of frantic phone calls but we get sorted in the end.

I eventually head back to school and arrive in Dhoon School in time for lunchtime. I use the lunch hour to get set up for a public school CAT4 exam which is being sat this afternoon by one of my pupils. At 1pm we head over to the High Five Room where I administer the exam and invigilate. 

We’re done and dusted by the end of the afternoon and the Knit and Stitch club ladies arrive to run their after school club. 

Wednesday 17th November

I arrive into Laxey School for what promises to be an excellent day of CPD and networking. I am hosting an online cluster meeting for IQM schools and today the theme of those discussions centres around the role and responsibilities of SENCOs. I’m keen to learn from what other schools do having recently remodelled our structure across the federation to have two SENCOs to split the workload, develop phase specialists and give them a sense of teamship and a sounding board for one another. 

It is clear that there are many different models in schools across the water, but a common theme arising out of the discussions is the idea of having a team around or with the SENCO, quality CPD opportunities and adequate release time. There is a split of opinion around the teaching commitment of SENCOs with some senior leaders believing that SENCOs should be able to role model quality first teaching as this builds credibility with their staff members, and others who think they should be deployed to support classroom teachers and recognise the high overall workload that being SENCO brings. 

I conclude there are no right answers; as ever, it has to be an approach which works for your setting. But it is pretty clear that generally schools are better resourced in the UK than in the Isle of Man: the release time for my two SENCOs, who are both full-time teachers, pales against what appears to be the norm in similarly sized schools in England. 

My staff team are working incredibly hard, as always, but the run up to Christmas with production rehearsals, data collections and everything else in between (we still have staffing shortfalls in key areas due to ongoing winter illnesses) means that they could become overburdened very quickly. With only a month of school remaining in 2021, I suspend our weekly staff meetings and say I will just call people together for any urgent quick updates. This frees up staff to focus on their core jobs and is a decision which goes down very well with the team at this hectic point in the school year.

Thursday 18th November

My diary is unexpectedly clear this morning so I take the opportunity to base myself at the dining room table and work from home for an hour which enables me to clear my usual backlog of emails without any distractions. Working from home has some advantages and after the recent national lockdowns from earlier this year, about which I blogged here, I can see this is a useful practice which will remain in use from time to time – though in school leadership it is hard to not be in the actual building. 

I travel into school for a meeting with the DESC SEN manager to discuss DFM funding for SEND. I ask my school administrator to attend as well as she looks after so much of the budget for me and we use the meeting to get our heads around the allocations a little more clearly. DFM is a complicated mechanism and I want to make sure we are using the funding as carefully and appropriately as possible. 

At 3.15 I jump into the car and make the drive to Laxey School. We are due an after-school visit from one of our local secondary schools: St. Ninians’ High School are holding their Y6-Y7 Transition Roadshow and it is an opportunity for pupils and parents to hear from the secondary staff. The team bring two former Laxey students with them, both now in Y7, to answer any questions from the children. It’s a well-attended – and very useful – event and I’m sure it will be helpful in assisting parents (and children) about which secondary school to go to next year. 

Friday 19th November

Its Children In Need today, and both school councils have organized a dress down day to celebrate the occasion and raise some money for the charity. As I head into the Laxey Celebration assembly I am amazed at the sea of colours: several children have donned Pudsey-esque clothes and there are lots of spotty choices too. As usual, the Celebration Assembly is a real highlight of the week. 

I head up to Dhoon School and arrive in time for an SEN review with parents, teachers and the local EdP to discuss how everything is going. It makes a pleasant change for such an upbeat review – things are certainly going well for this young person at the moment, but we all agree that doesn’t mean we can now start becoming complacent. 

I complete the usual flurry of Friday afternoon social media and website updates with all of our Dhoon High winners and Laxey Learning Heroes before tuning my attention to my paperwork and signing.

After a walk about outside at hometime to see parents and wave the children off for the weekend, I decide to call it a day and head home. Amazing to think we’ve now done 10 weeks of the school year, roughly a quarter. Where does the time go? Well there’s something for me to ruminate over with my Friday night beer! 

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