A year in the life of a school

Week 28 & 29: Dragged Through A Hedge Backwards…

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”….

You’ve probably heard the phrase “looks like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards.”

Sadly, that is an almost entirely appropriate description of how I arrived at this year’s annual conference for the National Association of Head Teachers. Having flown into the UK on an early flight, the Manx delegation proceeded to look every inch the opposite of elite, seasoned travellers.

We missed our train to Telford, then almost missed the stop when we eventually got there. We sat chatting away, staring aimlessly out of the window and had been doing so for at least 2 minutes before one of our number exclaimed “bloody hell, that sign says ‘Telford.’” I’ve seen people make mad dashes to get on a train; here we were making a mad dash to get off the train, which we did only by the skin of our teeth!

Telford, I’m sure, is a lovely place. But we immediately struggled with finding useful signposts, few pavements, many roads and lots of roundabouts. After a zig-zag walk in many different directions across more roads than I care to remember, we found the Conference Centre but struggled to find an entrance on the lengthy perimeter that we seemed to circle for an age.

In the end we hacked our way through a hedge and broke into the Centre through a back door which we found slightly ajar. Not the most elegant arrival at a Conference, but somehow we made it in time for the AGM, complete with twigs and leaves in our hair.

Arriving at the Telford Conference Centre

It was certainly an action packed way to start my Friday, at the culmination of another week of “expect the unexpected” stuff at Laxey and Dhoon School.

Monday 25th April 2022

Back to school after a glorious Easter holiday. I started at Laxey School and began my day with bus duty on the walking bus. Fantastic to see our pupils returning to school with smiles on their faces and holiday stories to tell.

In the afternoon I switched school and went to Dhoon. The Pupil Council had spent time collecting the views of children about our playground and had produced some exciting designs for revamping the yard with new paintwork, games and new equipment. The playground fairies have visited during the Easter holidays and I go out to see what they’ve done. It’s safe to say that the new look outdoor environment certainly has the “wow” factor!

Our new look playground got some attention from the team at Active Travel IOM

Tuesday 26th April

This morning I’m in Laxey School to observe our placement trainee teacher teach a lesson in KS1. This is a joint assessment with the college link tutor from Edge Hill University who arrives for a pre-observation chat.

The trainee is on their 2nd year teaching practice, but due to C19 it’s actually their first physically in a school…. teaching practice 1 was done virtually. Wow! I have to take my hat off to everyone involved in ITT, staff, mentors and students alike. This sector has faced all the same issues as the rest of education but some of it goes unsaid or unnoticed.

The lesson is strong – this is a secure trainee – and we feedback to smiles and relief.

The afternoon sees Steve from Rahmqvist call in. I buy some wonderful balance bikes that transform into scooters for EYFS. It’s also a good chance to catch up and talk all things education, Isle of Man, and football. Steve is keen to talk about Duncan Ferguson for some reason – I sit and listen politely.

Wednesday 27th April

One of the teaching unions in the Isle of Man – NASUWT – has announced that today they will be starting industrial action in furtherance of a better pay deal for teachers. Some of my staff team inform me that they’ll be taking part and will be refusing to attend staff meetings, provide any form of cover for absent colleagues, and won’t be taking the dinner register. There is more on their list of actions, but these are the three that have an immediate impact.

There is no doubt that this industrial action is going to hold up a lot of what I had hoped to move forwards with and develop across the federation this term.

Thursday 28th April

One of the big advantages of federation for my pupils is the opportunity to bring the schools together so that the children develop their social mixes, ability to communicate and collaborate and widen their circle of friends and peers. Today we have invited an organisation called Junior Achievement into the Federation to work with Y6 on a range of activities designed to help them learn about global trade and wealth, with opportunities to collaborate, be creative and think about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and future opportunities we may have.

The Y6 at Dhoon will be combining with the Y6 at Laxey for this and I arrive at Dhoon to help out with lifts.

Children from Dhoon School and Laxey School join forces and collaborate in the learning with Junior Achievement IOM

In the afternoon the Laxey Cross Country team travel to Nobles Park in Douglas to take part in the IOM Cross Country Championships – they represent themselves and the school very well.

The Laxey School Cross Country Team did themselves proud at the IOM Cross Country Championships

Friday 29th April

I’m up early and at the airport with colleagues from the Isle of Man branch of NAHT to represent the Island at the NAHT National Conference in Telford.

It was great to catch up with friends and colleagues from across the nations and the values of the conference – compassion, humanity and solidarity- were evident everywhere.

A motion about lobbying for investment in childrens services resonated and I spoke in support.

Speaking in support of Motion 3 at NAHT National Conference

Opportunities to network, discuss and debate are always useful and this conference facilitated this. Meeting with colleagues from fellow crown dependencies Jersey and Guernsey were particularly useful.

Monday 2nd May

It may be a Bank Holiday but I still find myself on the phone to my Head of School to discuss an ongoing safeguarding issue.

You really can’t switch off 100% in this job.

Tuesday 3rd May

Today the ongoing pay negotiations between the employer and the trade unions continue and I am there to represent NAHT along with our branch secretary and National Secretary.

We take receipt of a new and improved offer which we commit to put to our members by way of a ballot. Moving teachers to the London Fringe scale along with an additional Isle of Man allowance will see uplifts to salaries of between 2 and 5+ % so let’s see what our members say to that.

The planned staff meeting does not go ahead at school due to the industrial action.

Early evening sees me logging into Zoom to deliver a live webinar briefing to our Y6 parents ahead of the residential trip at the end of the month. The C19 pandemic moved a lot of things into a remote space, and even though we’re free to bring people together again, big parent meetings like this are better attended and more convenient for parents when held online rather than physically in the school hall.

Briefing for Y6 Parents re 2022 Venture Centre Trip via Zoom

I run through the details of the trip, kit list and all the forms we need filling in.

Wednesday 4th May

In the morning I meet with Drew Povey who is undertaking some leadership development work at my federation. It’s a fantastic meeting that helps reinvigorate and refocus some of my thinking. It also helps to discuss the industrial action hanging over the federation and to try and navigate a way through it that satisfies the schools’ need to continue moving forward without undermining the legitimate action of colleagues taking a principled stand. It’s a balancing act that will require strong and sensitive leadership. I just hope I’m up to the job.

In the afternoon I travel to Onchan School for a meeting with fellow HTs from the Eastern region of the Isle of Man. Today we are joined by representatives from DESC and IOM Government HR to talk us through the new look appraisal system for teachers which will begin in September. The new “Professional Development” approach looks good:

  • the link between performance and pay is broken
  • performance targets are replaced with personal career development goals
  • the system is supportive and assumes teacher standards are being met, so no need for people to collect masses of “evidence”

Thursday 5th May

Today I’m at the Comis Hotel for the termly Senior Leaders Meeting with all of the Island’s HTs and senior colleagues from DESC.

The agenda includes a lengthy session looking at the proposed new quality assurance framework by which Manx schools will be held to account. The framework is clearly based on OFSTED, and whilst many of the statements are difficult to disagree with (e.g leaders have a strong vision for their school type stuff) it seems to me, on first glance, a missed opportunity to do things differently. I’m more interested in the proposed system for inspecting all of this, and a session on peer review raises some questions with me. For now, I’ll reserve judgement because I don’t have the full picture, so it will be interesting to see what comes next. What is clear is that colleagues on the working group tasked with developing all of this have been working incredibly hard, and I do take reassurance from the fact that lots of experienced voices have been part of building this framework which is surely a positive thing.

Friday 6th May

I’m up super early this morning to put the finishing touches to the two newsletters I’ve been working on, one for each school. It’s the first Friday of the month and so today is the day they will be published.

My first meeting of the day is in my capacity as a trade union rep for a member and we head into DESC HQ to speak to the deputy CEO and Director of Strategic Advice. It’s a positive meeting and hopefully this casework can be wrapped up in the coming weeks.

I head into Laxey School and briefly catch up with some staff before spending a snatched half hour catching up on urgent paperwork which I’ve been getting chased to complete by my secretary.

I finish my day by heading up to Dhoon. I need to speak to my Y5/6 teacher about an urgent safeguarding issue before catching up with my Head of School to debrief on the week that was.

The newsletters are published and I end the day with a flurry of social media and updating the calendar section on the school website.

Next week is a special week to mark mental health, resilience, individuality and diversity. We’ve called it “This Is Me Week” and we have loads of events and visitors lined up. It promises to be fun but very busy! In the meantime the weekend has finally arrived and I’m more than ready to down tools for a couple of days. I dare say I’m ending the week looking, once again, like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards. But on the bright side, they say it’s always beer o’clock somewhere in the world. In Max’s world that time is now! Cheers!

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