A year in the life of a school

Week 24 & 25: Double Header Round-Up

In the latest of an ongoing series of blogs for the 2021-2022 academic year, Executive Headteacher Max Kelly captures his time 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”….

It’s been an incredibly busy time over the last couple of weeks with staff absences at both schools rising, linked to a spike in C19 numbers across the Isle of Man. Somehow my schools have ridden out the bumps and kept the show on the road – my thanks to my amazing, flexible and adaptable staff team for really pulling together and remaining solution focused. Here is a bumper-edition blog covering the last two weeks at Laxey School and Dhoon School…

Spring is in the air in the gorgeous Isle of Man… but a spike in C19 has made it a very challenging time for Manx schools.

Monday 14th March

I arrive at school bright and breezy. I’m at Laxey School because I’ve just received word that one of our teachers – a supply – has contracted C19 and will be going into isolation. We remain without a caretaker, our last remaining cleaner has called in to say they have C19, and a sprinkling of support staff and lunchtime staff have gone down with it too. It’s going to be one of those weeks.

I take a call from Dhoon School where it is the children more than the adults who are experiencing a surge in C19 numbers. Y6 are due to start a week of cycling proficiency training, but the road safety team decide that due to the high levels of absence amongst pupils in that year group, it will be better to postpone. So the training is called off last minute and somehow we’ll have to reschedule for later in the year.

In the afternoon I head off to Ballacottier School in Douglas which is hosting our NAHT Isle of Man Branch AGM. I arrive to a car park full of fire engines, police vans and flashing lights. It transpires that a ceiling has collapsed, caused by water leakage, and pupils have had to be moved out. The good news is that everyone is safe and the school has dealt with everything brilliantly… but we won’t be holding our AGM there amidst the chaos!

One of our committee members volunteers their school as a venue, and I put in a call to our regional organiser who starts letting members know of the change in venue via an email drop.

It has been a privilege to serve in recent years as Branch President, and latterly Branch Secretary. At the AGM I retire from this role – it’s important to share out the different roles and experiences to build capacity and expertise across a number of people – but I’m delighted to be elected on to the Committee and asked to represent our Edge member’s interests.

Tuesday 15th March

I base myself in Dhoon School today and accompany Y2-Y6 on their weekly trip to Ramsey Swimming Pool for their swimming lesson.

In the afternoon we are visited by the Department of Education’s Director of Strategic Advice. It’s a chance for me to update her on some of the key challenges we’ve been facing in school recently (mainly staff absences, but also a couple of safeguarding issues and a couple of operational matters) as well as showcasing the school as I give the grand tour.

Wednesday 16th March

This morning my SLT and I had blocked out the time to review the Cornerstones Curriculum following our meeting with them a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, my Head of School at Laxey can’t make it due to having to cover for an absent colleague, so it’s just me and my HoS at Dhoon this morning. At 11am we dial into a call with Sandra at Cornerstones and talk through some questions, queries and clarify a couple of points.

The curriculum looks great and we’re really looking forward to starting a soft launch after Easter before a full launch in September.

After lunch I head into Laxey School. At 3.30pm an EYFS adviser from the Department of Education arrives to set up for our staff meeting. I’ve booked her to deliver some refresher training on phonics. It’s useful, practical stuff. The whole team attends as I always feel it is important we learn together; sure, my EYFS and KS1 teams use this on a daily basis, but phonics doesn’t just stop at the end of Y2 and I’m keen to get that message out there too.

Thursday 17th March

The Department of Education have published a draft policy called “Policy for Headteachers of More Than One Primary School.” It’s of obvious interest to me as I am a headteacher of more than one school; but it’s generating a lot of interest amongst teachers in the Isle of Man as it signals that this appears to be the direction of travel for Manx schools going forward.

My Federation was the first of its kind in the Isle of Man, but in the five or six years that we’ve been doing it, a couple of others have started to appear. Read my blog on federating my schools here.

The IOM Branch of NAHT calls a committee meeting to review the draft policy and consider our position on it, and I travel into Kewaigue School in Douglas to take part. We’re joined by regional officer Jason Ferraby who dials in via Teams. We also use the opportunity to touch base on QA / Inspection which is being reviewed by a working group.

Friday 18th March

It’s Red Nose Day and children from both schools are allowed to dress down (red theme) or come in superhero costumes. It’s a great sight and the children all bring in a couple of quid to raise some money for Comic Relief.

Monday 21st March

Last Monday saw Dhoon School’s planned cycling proficiency called off due to pupil absence caused by C19. Today we call off Laxey’s – because of C19 related staff absence within the road safety team. That’s two weeks of rescheduling we now have to accommodate before the end of the school year. Can’t be helped, but frustrating.

I arrive at Laxey School to meet a second year trainee from Edge Hill University who is starting an eight week teaching-practice placement with us today. It’s a bit special for lots of trainees who end up with us because they’re UK based and get to travel overseas to be with us for their placement. Must be exciting! The university put the trainees up in accommodation in Douglas and they make themselves at home in the Isle of Man for the duration of their placement. We’ve put our trainee into Key Stage One and I have a feeling she’ll do very well here.

Just after 9am an artist called Leanne from Jannoo Art arrives. She’s agreed to work with all our children today to paint our Dolphin which we’re doing as part of Hospice’s Big Splash appeal. Over the course of the day over 200 children contribute to the painting. A real collaboration 😀

All of our pupils contributed to painting our dolphin for the Big Splash Hospice Fundraiser.

My main task of the morning is working with my panel to shortlist candidates for our recently advertised vacancies: a teaching job at Dhoon and a cleaning role at Laxey. We get a list together and send out invites for interviews.

In the afternoon I travel to Rushen School to meet with the headteacher there who is taking over as Branch Secretary for IOM NAHT. We have a handover conversation and catch up on some educational issues too.

Tuesday 22nd March

A chance to catch my breath a little as Tuesday feels much calmer. But as one teacher returns to Laxey following a period of C19 isolation, another begins as our Y6 teacher messages in to say she’s tested positive. I take the class for the morning which includes accompanying them swimming. Usually I teach at Dhoon on a Tuesday morning so it’s a great opportunity to see first hand the progress my Laxey pupils have been making with their swimming skills.

In the afternoon I’m able to have a walk around all the classes and take in some of the brilliant teaching and learning that’s been going on of late.

Wednesday 23rd March

The Eastern Heads regional meeting is cancelled this morning in recognition of the staff absence challenges being posed across the board at the moment.

I take the opportunity to meet with our trainee and talk through some expectations and draw attention to some of our key policies including our safeguarding policy, child protection policy, anti-bullying policy and behaviour policy. We also talk about planning, and opportunities for wider school involvement.

Later we are joined on a Teams call by the university tutor responsible for the trainee’s placements: in a strange quirk of fate, Jean used to be head at Laxey School before I took over and federated with Dhoon. It’s good to see her and it’s great to know that the next generation of teachers are in such safe hands.

Thursday 24th March

This morning I head off to Santon Professional Development Centre for the half-termly Primary Headteachers meeting. It’s a varied agenda including updates on schools’ involvement with the Isle of Man’s UNESCO Biosphere Status, electricity consumption in Manx schools, data reporting arrangements and an update from the school nursing team. As always it’s good to catch up and network with colleagues from across the Island’s schools.

Friday 25th March

Undoubtedly one of my favourite days of the school year and something I look forward to every year is Daffodil Day. In the Autumn Term my pupils from both schools plant a daffodil bulb and take it home in a pot. Towards the end of Spring Term they’re invited to bring it back in so we can see the flower – the children are also asked to decorate their pot. The local Commissioners come in to judge the entries and award prizes. For me, it’s a real highlight of the year – I just love the array of daffs, the vibrant colours and the imagination shown by my pupils in how they decorate the pots. It’s very visual and it always lifts the spirits and marks the arrival of spring.

A fine array of daffodils and decorated pots at Laxey School.

We have fantastic entries in both schools and I make doubly sure that I’m able to spend time in both schools today.

I’m also able to lead both school assemblies and I’m reminded of the privilege I have in working in these two fabulous settings as I hand out certificates in recognition of amazing learning across the federation. We have some truly excellent pupils and staff, and it’s great to round off the last two weeks by celebrating success in our assemblies.

Celebration Assembly at Laxey School.
High Five Assembly at Dhoon School.

Once home I send a quick message of appreciation to my staff team and find a comfy place on the settee. Another busy couple of weeks complete! They say it’s always beer-o-clock somewhere in the world… in Max’s world, that time is now.

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