A year in the life of a school

Week 17: I’ll Just Park It There

In the seventeenth 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 17th January

I’m up early and stop off at my nan’s on the way to work. She has made it to the grand old age of 93 today and Gracie and I have a card and flowers which we deliver. 

Gracie posting our card to Nan through her letterbox – 93 today!!

Into school to welcome the parents and children as they arrive before heading off to meet one of the DESC Education Advice and Support officers to discuss curriculum development. 

I head back to Dhoon School for the afternoon where I am invigilating an exam for public school entry for one of my pupils. This afternoon’s papers are for English and maths.

With no steering group in the diary for this afternoon, I take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on admin and paperwork and begin to clear up my email inbox. 

Tuesday 18th January

I start my day at Laxey School. The roads works have intensified and there is work going on in the school grounds. I photograph a construction vehicle outside my office and realize the next few months are likely to be very noisy.

A hoist appears outside my office window…. the next few months promise to be rather noisy!

At 10.30am I set off to the swimming pool in Ramsey to meet the Dhoon School and to take my group. C19 has a small foothold amongst the pupil population at Dhoon and numbers at the pool are noticeably down today. 

Outside the Ramsey Swimming Pool – just about to go in and teach my group

Back at Laxey and the Department of Infrastructure arrive to close the snicket and erect Harris fencing to cordon off an area of playground where the road / drainage works will need to creep onto our site. It presents some immediate logistical issues for us in terms of entrance and access points for parents coming to collect their children tonight and so we work quickly to produce a comms release which we put out over our social channels. The Harris fencing cuts off the access route down one side of the school building – the alternative is for pedestrians to use the school car park. This doesn’t feel like a safe option, and given the time frame for developing a contingency, I ask some staff to don a high-viz jacket and make themselves a visible force in the car park at home time. It’s not an ideal solution and we’ll need to do something more substantive long-term.

The view from my office window – the Harris fencing is up, the snicket is closed and access down the side of the school is closed

Wednesday 19th January

The day starts with a local radio station picking up on our social media comms from yesterday and spinning it as a fall out between school and DoI. The DoI liaison officer calls me and we agree that the media are making a mountain of a mole hill. 

It’s fair to say though that the roads works and closed off access to the school is creating an issue in terms of traffic, and again I have to ask teachers to put on their high-viz jackets and head outside. It’s hardly in the job description, but we need to respond to this emerging health and safety situation. 

I head into Dhoon School: I’ve scheduled in a ‘professional conversation’ with every one of my teachers; a chance to reconnect, catch-up, and discuss professional aims, classroom concerns and generally chew the fat. Usually these types of conversations would probably crop up in appraisals and performance reviews, but all of that is currently suspended in the Isle of Man (for a variety of reasons linked to ASOS, the ‘deal’ which ended the recent industrial dispute, and, of course, C19) so the staff and I agreed to these professional conversations instead, which we’d have informally and over a cup of coffee. I ran these sessions with the teachers last week at Laxey, and they were incredibly useful: today’s prove just as fruitful. 

I drive back to Laxey School after lunch to wait for the arrival of Sue Smits from Morrells Handwriting. Sue is the number one handwriting expert in the UK, and has been a friend of the federation for many years. Today she is here to lead a parent workshop followed by staff training. 

In between the parent workshop – which we hold during the afternoon in the hall with all the usual C19 mitigations in place – and the staff training, I head outside to stand in the staff car park and try to deter parents from making unauthorised use. A perfect storm of increased pedestrians in the car park, increased vehicles from parents struggling to park elsewhere because of the road works, and a reduced access to the school from Minorca Hill causes a chaotic and dangerous pick-up time. A child slips away from the hands of their parent and finds themselves in the middle of the car park. A car has performed a multi-point manoeuvre and pulls away at speed, slamming on the brakes just in time. It’s a near miss that elicits shrieks, cries of panic and reduces some staff to tears. This cannot continue.

A local MHK contacts me having heard about the near miss from a concerned constituent. We agree to meet tomorrow to work out what solutions we can come up with. 

Thursday 20th January

The morning is taken up as union facility time – as NAHT rep I usually have a few cases on the go at any one time, but this is a particularly busy time for union work. 

In the afternoon I head down to Laxey School for my meeting with Daphne Caine, the MHK who contacted me yesterday. We chat about the roads works, and the impact on the school especially in terms of keeping everyone safe. Daphne gives some great advice and we make a plan: I’ll work on a social media campaign to strengthen the schools position on restricted parental use of the car park, I’ll rescind the permission given to a small number of families to use the staff car park, and Daphne will chase increased signage and a car park barrier with the DoI. Fingers crossed it will make a difference. 

I also agree to contact the DoI to request a high-viz set of barriers to create a safe walk way through the car park for pedestrians. Nobody ever explains that these are the sort of unexpected scenarios you’ll be dealing with when you become a headteacher… teaching and learning, what’s that!!? 

Friday 21st January

I’m in to Laxey School nice and early. The day is scheduled to begin with a particularly tricky safeguarding meeting with some parents, but I’m pleasantly surprised with how positive and productive it turns out to be. 

With schools in the Isle of Man being able to return to assemblies, our first physical Celebration Assembly of 2022 takes place. It’s always a highlight of the week for me to hear what has been going on in classrooms and discover which children have been giving it their all. 

There is a rush after assembly to get up to Dhoon School in time for the federation leadership meeting. My two heads of school and I discuss some action points arising out of the pre-Christmas Governors Meeting, and we touch base on some of the pressing issues touching the federation at the moment. It’s a great meeting in terms of feeling like we may be powering up again after a period of stalling and survival due to C19. 

The afternoon begins with the first physical High Five Assembly of 2022 at Dhoon School and I’m delighted at some of the positive contributions to lessons that pupils have been making. 

My tweet to celebrate our Friday Assemblies across the Federation

My next job is to release our social media campaign with strengthened messaging around the Laxey School car park. There’s no doubting its more strongly worded than I’d normally issue, and I cross my fingers that the parent community will be supportive. 

Social media campaign for car park safety

I move into a Teams meeting with trade unions and the employer to continue our pay negotiations. Overall the talks have been constructive and today we take receipt of an offer which we agree to take to our members. I can’t say more than that in this blog, and the next step is to let the process play out and see where we end up. 

As the Teams meeting ends, I glance up and see that home time is almost upon us. I don my high-viz and head out on to the staff car park to be a visible presence. Things do seem calmer on the car park front and hopefully the social media campaign will kick in over the weekend.

It’s certainly been a busy week with plenty of variety. However, car park management has taken up far too much of my time, and I hope I can get back to focusing on more educational issues next week. They say it is always beer-o-clock somewhere in the world. In Max’s world, that time is now.

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