New Headship: First 100 Days

Progress, Pride And Reaching 50 Days: Weeks 9 and 10 In A Headteacher’s Journey at Willaston School

As I reflect on my first 50 days in post at Willaston School, I am struck by the resilience and positivity of both the students and staff. I’ve been at Laxey and Dhoon for many years, but this also marks 50 days as their Head whilst also being Head at Willaston. In this latest reflection, despite facing difficult news from the parent community at Dhoon School, everyone came together to support each other and ensure that the day ran smoothly. In this blog, I share some of the highlights of the past two weeks, including a girls' football tournament, cycling proficiency training, and catching up with parents. Join me as I celebrate the successes of our partnership of schools and look ahead to the next 50 days.

Monday, March 13th (Day 41)

IWC Media, television producers for Channel 5, visited me at Laxey School to discuss our school’s participation in an upcoming prime-time TV program. We talked about the necessary parental consents and permissions required, and the producers met some of the children who could potentially be involved. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting project!

Tuesday, March 14th (Day 42)

The day began at Willaston School, where I greeted families and children before attending a budget meeting with the Head of School and school administrator. With the financial year end approaching, it is a busy time for our school administrators across the three schools.

In the afternoon, I went to the Santon Professional Development Centre for a meeting with the Isle of Man’s EYFS Assessment Group. As a member of this group, we worked on an options paper for the Isle of Man Department of Education, Sport, and Culture regarding changes to assessment procedures in EYFS to better reflect the New Development Matters Curriculum and so that it is more modern and fit for purpose.

Wednesday, March 15th (Day 43)

I began the day at Laxey School to welcome Daphne Caine MHK, who spoke to our Year 6 students about the Manx Parliament, Tynwald, and helped them prepare for a mock debate in the Tynwald Chamber during an upcoming educational visit.

Daphne Caine MHK working with Year 6 students at Laxey School.

Later, my Chair of Governors and I had a Zoom discussion about recent developments across the schools, including the response of local residents to the Governor’s recent communication about the car park barrier, and feedback from the Education Council meeting.

Dhoon and Laxey’s Year 6 students participated in a “Speed Questions” transition event at RGS Secondary School. In the afternoon, I took the opportunity to spend time in Willaston School.

Thursday, March 16th (Day 44)

An important day in that my 44th day saw me equal Brian Clough’s reign at Leeds Utd. Hopefully I can now surpass it… I spent most of the day at Dhoon School catching up on various matters that had accumulated on my desk during the week, including a complaint. However, I also had the chance to observe some classroom learning. Later in the day, I went to Willaston School to meet with Kate Bergquist who is running the iHeart RAW wellbeing program for my Year 5 students.

Friday, March 17th (Day 45)

Today was Red Nose Day at Willaston School, where we marked the occasion with a Mad Hair Day. I wore a bow in my hair for the event which I teamed with red lipstick and nail varnish to link in with the accessorise in red theme at Laxey and Dhoon.

Bow in hair for Willaston, lipstick for Laxey and nails for Dhoon. Comic Relief / Red Nose Day 2023 😜

The morning at Willaston presented a challenging start to the day for one student struggling with the extra excitement of the hair day but we soon managed to settle into the day. 

Mad Hair Day at Willaston School for Red Nose Day 2023!

As well as RDN, we were visited by the Lempen Puppet Theatre… they had been to Laxey School last week and were due to Willaston on the Friday which ultimately could not go ahead because of the snow enforced school closures. It was brilliant that we had been able to reschedule their booking for today. 

From Willaston I headed first to Laxey, and then to Dhoon to lead the celebration assemblies there before heading back to Willaston to close the day and finish my week. 

Monday, March 20th (Day 46)

The week started with the Head of School and me interviewing shortlisted candidates for the vacant caretaker position at Willaston School. Unfortunately, the HR generated interview invites listed Laxey School as the location. Consequently, each of the candidates arrived at the wrong school, which did little to reduce the natural interview anxieties they were experiencing.

All the candidates were very good and making a final choice was difficult. However, it was a nice headache to have, as football managers sometimes say.

At Laxey School, the Year 5s and Year 6s brought their bicycles in for Cycling Proficiency lessons, which were due to last all week. Fingers crossed the weather stays kind!

Author and Illustrator Simon Murray visited Dhoon School, where he led an assembly, followed by workshops in each class. This type of input into our cultural capital offering is so important for our pupils.

Author and Illustrator of the Icky Doo Dah series, Simon Murray, working with Dhoon School.

The day finished with Parents’ Evening (1) at Dhoon School. We made the conscious decision to encourage face-to-face consultations on this occasion to help build up personal connections again. It was a successful event, but made the day long, and I was shattered when I finally arrived home gone 8 pm.

Tuesday, March 21st (Day 47)

It was Odd Socks day at Laxey School in support and awareness of Down Syndrome Day. To be honest, it made getting dressed much easier, as locating a matching pair in my house is very challenging.

My choice of odd socks.

Author and Illustrator Simon Murray made his visit to Willaston School today, and the children were inspired and enthused by his assembly and workshops.

Simon Murray working at Willaston School.

The day finished back at Dhoon School for Parents’ Evening (2). One third of the way through Parents’ Evenings, as next week we move on to Laxey School, and Willaston School is the week after that!

Wednesday, March 22nd (Day 48)

My day started at Laxey School for a meeting with my Head of School and a teacher currently on maternity leave who wanted to discuss options for her return to work. We had the baby in the office with us for the meeting, but he slept through. I’m sure there have been many people sat in my office wishing they could just nod off during a meeting with me, but until today, no one actually had!

Author and Illustrator Simon Murray made his third appearance at one of my schools this week, with Laxey School on his radar today.

Simon Murray working with Laxey School today.

The remainder of the day was spent round the kitchen table with my Heads of School from Laxey and Dhoon. We continued our work on QA, looking at the framework and continuing to self-audit ourselves against the criteria. We also looked at our master “to-do” list/action plan and made some progress analyzing the current state of play with these two schools. My next move is to think about how to plug Willaston School into this process. By the time I get to 100 days in, I need to be all over this.

Thursday, March 23rd (Day 49)

The partnership model of school leadership is a new and emerging model in the Isle of Man that requires knowledge and insight to effectively implement. When I took on Willaston School, I knew that visiting an established partnership of schools would provide valuable insight into the advantages, challenges, and strategies necessary for success. The visit would also establish a network of contacts for ongoing support and collaboration. If the visit was worthwhile, there may be scope for other members of the SLT to visit as part of their CPD, and for colleagues from the school partnership in the UK to pay a reciprocal visit to the Isle of Man.

To this end, I arrived in Crowborough to visit Kate Owbridge, Executive Headteacher of Ashdown School across multiple sites in the town.

Outside Ashdown Primary School, Junior School, to visit Kate Owbridge.

Kate is an incredible school leader: generous with her time; inspiring; fair; experienced; and full of passion, purpose, vision and a strong moral compass. It was brilliant to see her work in action and take lessons on multiple site development, staffing structures, communication and strategic leadership which would inform my work in the Isle of Man. 

One of the most interesting parts of my day was looking at staff development, and seeing developmental reviews in action was as much a privilege as it was a learning point. 

All in all a very positive day and I tweeted my reflections as follows:

Earlier in this blog I mentioned that I surpassed Brian Clough’s ill-fated tenure at Leeds Untited. Today I equalled Lizz Truss’s time in Number 10 as Prime Minister! Is that an achievement? Who knows?

On Friday, March 24th (Day 50)

The day started with incredibly sad news from the parent community at Dhoon School, which set a sombre tone for the day. However, the staff did a fantastic job of managing the day and supporting both the children and each other. Consequently, we decided to suspend our usual Celebration Assembly.

At Willaston School, we started the day with a Celebration Assembly, and afterwards, I headed to Laxey School to do the same.

It was delightful to hear that our Y5s and Y6s had passed their cycling proficiency training too!

Cycling Proficiency success for Yrs 5 and 6!

In the afternoon, I went to The Bowl football stadium in Douglas to watch the Isle of Man Girls Football Tournament, which was organized by the IOM FA. All three schools under my partnership had teams entered, and it was special to arrive and see Dhoon vs Willaston play out. Later on, Laxey played against Dhoon before Willaston entertained Laxey. Most of the island’s other schools were also represented, and all three of my schools performed very well and were fantastic ambassadors for our partnership of schools. It was great to see the children in action and walk between the crowds of people, catching up with parents for talks and chats.

As I complete 50 days in post at Willaston School and reflect on what has been achieved, I am proud of the children and teachers for responding positively to the change in leadership and embracing the changes I have asked for. I am now ready for the weekend! Here’s to the next 50 days!

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