A year in the life of a school

Week 11: A Stormy Week Gone… Then Along Comes Omicron

In the eleventh 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”….

Sometimes you just know it’s going to be one of those weeks. I look at my diary for the week ahead and it screams heavy workload, challenging workstreams and difficult meetings at me. I conclude it’s going to need a “roll-your-sleeves-up and get-stuck-in” attitude and the mode I select for the week is survival.

Monday 22nd November

I pull into the car park at Laxey School to a sea of autumn leaves all over the ground. Undisturbed they look quite pretty, but the attractiveness soon gives way to a scruffy and unkempt look – we are surrounded by trees in Laxey School and my hardworking caretaker has an almost continual job on her hands to clear them away at this time of year.

The first big job of the day is interviewing for the post of lunchtime assistant. Isle of Man Government runs a talent pool for this particular post in schools, the theory being that people can apply to a central pool of potential lunchtime assistants and once a vacancy presents in a school, the recruiting managers can turn to the talent pool and find ready made candidates for an interview. Our HR office have given me four such candidates for interview this morning, but two declined last week. Of the remaining two, one phones just before their allotted time to withdraw from the process telling me they have now secured a job elsewhere, and the final candidate is a no show. So, back to the drawing board – we won’t be appointing anyone today despite the prep in terms of blocking out diaries for interviews, devising questions and having all our recruitment packs printed up and ready to use. It’s a frustrating start to the week and another foreshadowing of the way the rest of this week is likely to go.

Recruitment is difficult at the moment across the board for positions like cleaners, support and lunchtime ancillaries. People just don’t seem to be stepping forward.

I head up to Dhoon School for the afternoon – one of my pupils is progressing applications to public schools for next academic year and I invigilate an ISEB exam that she sits. The opportunity actually presents a quiet space for a couple of hours so I can also clear some of my administrative jobs and respond to some emails while she undertakes the exam.

At 4pm I head into the staff room where the Federation Steering Group are convening for our weekly high-level meeting. I update colleagues around the current position with appraisal (which remains suspended across all of DESC); automatic pay increments for those eligible, and talk through the teacher standards document. I pull a couple of important – but sometimes overlooked – elements of the standards out and ask colleagues to feed back to their teams so that everyone is aware that they still exist and we are still required to meet the standards even though appraisal itself is suspended.

We also cover SEN assessments, and talk about this term’s data collection.

Tuesday 23rd November

I begin the day in Dhoon School and the first part of my morning is spent outside welcoming in children and speaking to parents. It remains such a vital part of what I do – connecting to families and making sure that I am visible and therefore approachable if people should need to speak to me or raise issues.

Tuesday is swimming day and I’m relieved when the bus turns up to pick up the children to take them to the pool – last week it was a no show! I follow the bus in my car because I won’t be coming back to Dhoon after swimming – my afternoon engagements are based at Laxey. As I’m driving to the pool my phone rings and I take the call over hands-free. It’s my Head of School at Laxey who tells me a safeguarding issue has emerged and it will require an urgent response

We talk through a plan of action as I drive and we agree the next steps that need to be taken. My Heads of School act as the DSLs in their respective schools and I leave the call knowing that appropriate actions will be taken – we resolve to meet up as soon as I get into Laxey School.

Into the swimming pool and my group continues to progress well – we work on stamina and do lots of lengths today. From the pool it’s into the car and I head off to Laxey.

I arrive at Laxey School and go straight into a meeting with my Head of School to continue our response to the safeguarding matter. A really important principle which we keep at the forefront of our minds is that it is not our job to investigate – there are other agencies charged with this who are far more expert. Our job is to treat concerns seriously and raise them with other agencies appropriately.

My next appointments are interviews for the vacant cleaning positions we have in the school and I’m delighted that we also have a candidate turn up to interview for the lunchtime assistant role too. It makes a positive change from yesterday to have some actual people to interview.

The final part of the day extends into early evening – it’s the follow up from our safeguarding issue. I finally leave school and get home gone 7pm. Another long day.

Wednesday 24th November

An extra early start as I arrive into Dhoon School to make sure that everything is ready for the trainee students from Edge Hill University who are visiting this morning to use our school for some workshops before they head off to the Maughold Venture Centre for some learning around outdoor education.

I welcome Mr Jackson and the Edge Hill students who all arrive in a minibus – a beautiful rainbow extends over the school to mark their arrival. Once I have them all settled into their room, I dash up to my office for the first of my morning meetings which is with my Education Advice Service Partner from DESC. This includes a general talk about the recent challenges and successes of Dhoon School, and a tour of the school.

A beautiful rainbow appears as the backdrop to Dhoon School.

I head into Laxey School just after 11am to meet the EAS Partner for the Laxey site. We have a discussion and a look around the school which is a welcome opportunity to see the children engaged in some fabulous learning with inspiring teachers.

At lunchtime I entertain three children in my office for some games of chess – part of the reason for this is in recognition of the difficulties some children have in managing with the less structured times in the school day such as lunchtime… but it’s always useful to keep my chess game skills sharp. As is happening a lot recently, I am beaten resoundingly.

I’d love to accompany the Dhoon School Council on their trip to the plantation to select this year’s Christmas tree for the school, but my diary won’t afford me the time. I move into an SEN Review Meeting with parents and EdPs which runs on for over an hour.

The Dhoon School Council choose this year’s School Christmas Tree.

I have a short gap of 20 minutes between the end of the review and the start of the Governors Meeting. I decide to grab a quick cup of coffee but notice there is a message on my desk to call one of our IOM NAHT members ASAP. As Branch Secretary for the IOM NAHT, I’m used to having to drop everything to speak to members who need advice and/or support. My coffee will have to wait.

Our Chair of Governors has sent in apologies – he has fallen victim to C19 unfortunately. Despite his absence we are quorate and the meeting can go ahead. This is our first Governors meeting of the academic year and there is a lot to cover. The meeting runs for a couple of hours and I’m feeling pretty shattered at the end of it.

I finish the day with half an hour in my Laxey office to catch up on some urgent and outstanding admin jobs. I finally get home just after 7. Another long day.

I think I’m having a tough week, but I watch the news at home and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is shown delivering a less than spectacular speech in which he loses his place and makes bizarre references to Peppa Pig. I pen a quick blog and post it to my ManxMaxim website. At least I’m not the only one finding things tough at the moment! The difference is I’m responding to events whereas Boris is creating his own problems. You can read my blog here> Another Bad Hair Day? Owning A Brush Might Help.

Thursday 25th November

It’s a big two days coming up for the Federation. Our Inclusion Quality Mark statuses are up for revalidation which involves a full day review by an independent and external assessor at each site. In the run up to preparing for the assessments the schools have had to complete a self-audit which will be getting the fine-tooth comb treatment as well as preparing evidence to demonstrate that the schools continue to meet the criteria under the 8 elements of inclusive practice. Today is the turn of Laxey School to be assessed and I arrive early to make sure that we are fully prepared.

Laxey School is currently a “Centre of Excellence” for inclusion and the review will seek to revalidate that status. The external reviewer has a formidable CV and a quick Google reveals her to be someone with extensive headship experience, a holder of the CBE, and a current OFSTED inspector. Usually the assessor would visit in person, but the world has changed since C19 and today we will be reviewed remotely via Zoom.

First up is an interview with me to discuss our self-audit document before a live virtual tour of the school via an iPad to show Laxey School in action.

I leave the assessor in the capable hands of my head of school for staff interviews, parent interviews and a meeting with the school council – I head to Santon Professional Development Centre for the half-termly Primary Headteachers meeting. It’s a very full agenda including updates about the new appraisal framework for teachers, pathways for diagnosing and supporting developmental language disorder in children, quality assurance of schools and an update to the Relationship and Sex Education curriculum in primary schools.

I head back to Laxey and get back just in time for my feedback meeting with the IQM assessor who talks me through her findings. Her comments certainly put a smile on my face… but until her report is filed and ratified by IQM the outcome cannot be considered final so I’m unable to say more than that for now.

My final appointment of the day is with a member of the union following on from yesterday’s phone call. We meet outside of schools in a neutral and discreet location. It is always a privilege to help others and I hope we have a pathway of support opening up for us.

I head home but again get in gone 7pm. I’m met with the news that I’m heading back out with Stephanie to do a Tesco shop. This really is the week that keeps on giving.

Friday 26th November

I arrive at Dhoon School ready for our Inclusion Quality Mark revalidation. Yesterday went really well at Laxey School and today is the turn of Dhoon. Once again we’ve submitted a comprehensive self-audit and evidence file and so we await the review which will take place all day.

Dhoon is a National “Flagship” for inclusion – one of only a handful across the British Isles – and it is a status we are extremely proud of and intend to retain.

Today we are also being revalidated for our Investing in Children status which recognises the pupil voice in our school. The assessor for this is local – the headteacher of Arbory School – and I greet him just before logging into my first meeting with the IQM assessor. It certainly feels as though Dhoon School is under the spotlight today!

Personally, I welcome this external scrutiny of my schools – it is partly why I invite these non-compulsory reviews and assessments to take place. It is all too easy to think everything is great and slip into “complacency mode” without some fresh eyes and an external perspective. It’s worth the extra workload and stress – I think that’s what I’m saying.

It’s the first time in ages that my diary prevents me from attending either celebration assembly but I text my Head of School at Laxey just before he goes in to present it to send my congratulations to the children who receive an award.

My tweets to celebrate the successes of our children in the Dhoon High Five Assembly and Laxey Celebration Assembly.

I conduct the real-time virtual tour of Dhoon School for the IQM assessor before hosting the local IiC assessor for feedback on their morning with our school council. So far the comments I’m receiving from both assessments are giving me cause to feel good.

I grab a coffee in the staff room at lunchtime and find myself on the receiving end of some good-natured banter. Well, at least I hope it was good natured… (!)

My afternoon consists of representing NAHT in pay talks with the employer. When the industrial dispute in the Isle of Man ended in 2020 part of the settlement included a reopener clause for pay talks if certain conditions were met. The trade unions triggered this clause when the Isle of Man inflation figure for June was revealed and the STRB recommendations were considered by the UK Secretary of State in relation to the STPCD pay award.

Key Achievement #2 outlines the Pay Talks reopener clause which have led to today’s talks with the employer.

The meeting involves the employer and all of the recognised education unions in the Island. As the local NAHT rep I’m pleased to be joined by National Secretary Rob Kelsall. The talks are positive – but I can’t comment beyond that at this stage. What I will say is that the talks last all afternoon and by the time they conclude I’m feeling shattered. I emerge from my office (the talks having been held via MS Teams) to the news that Storm Arwen has brought down a tree not far from the school which has blocked a road and caused havoc at home time. The school bus has been cancelled and traffic has been jammed right up the road.

NAHT National Secretary Rob Kelsall’s tweet on the day pay talks reopened.

As usual, my staff have responded in their usual unflappable manner and by the time I arrive on the scene everything has been sorted and dealt with. My Head of School has also sent home the team with news of more bad weather on the way including an amber warning.

I decide to call it a day myself and head home. I read later that a tree has come down on Minorca Hill, the road that services Laxey School. This storm is certainly taking its toll: an apt reflection on a week that’s taken it’s toll on me.

News starts filtering through of a new C19 variant… Omicron appears to be causing real and genuine concern amongst world leaders, world scientists and media. I expect this story to build over the weekend.

Storm Arwen brings down a tree on Minorca Hill – the road that Laxey School is on.

They say it’s always beer-o-clock somewhere in the world – I crack open a beer and order a take away. Somehow I’ve made it through the week, and despite all the challenges both schools have emerged stronger: I can’t wait to share the news from the IQM and IiC assessments once I’m given the green-light. And lets hope Omicron isn’t the force we’re all starting to fear that it might be. Cheers everyone 🍻

1 comment

  1. Dear Max

    Hello from England. Many thanks for this post. My wife is a retired teacher, so will understand your work well. I have been to the Isle of Man and hope that one day my wife and I will have the privilege to go and cycle round the island.

    I also want to stand on the top of Snaefell and see all 4 of the countries surrounding the island on the same day if possible.

    I have had a quick look at other posts of yours and see you are a Star Trek fan. I do like it very much, but I am not consumed by it. But the story lines are very good on the whole, and make one think.

    Mind you as I am not much hair on top I might say I am ‘baldly going where no man has gone bald before!’ Except this would be a lie, as lots of men have gone there before me!!!

    As regards omicron, this is an anagram of moronic. Omicron may be an Irishman, O’Mick Ron.

    Not to be confused with the Frenchman, Heman Youwell MacRon who has some Scottish blood in in him it appears.

    I have written about the variants and you might find it amusing and possibly enlightening. I have much more on my website if you should need it. Here’s my link.

    https://alphaandomegacloud.wordpress.com/2021/12/02/various-variants-covid-19/

    Kind regards

    Baldmichael Theresoluteprotector’sson

    Please excuse the nom-de-plume, this is as much for fun as a riddle for people to solve if they wish.

    Like

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