Laxey and Dhoon Schools were shortlisted for the TES Primary School of the Year award. I really enjoyed talking to Maxim Kelly, Executive Headteacher to find out all about his schools on the Isle of Man. It was really interesting to find out what it is like to live and work on the Isle of Man. I also had the privilege of speaking to the school council and finding out all about island life, how they are able to use their pupil’s voice and find out more about the school from the children’s point of view. You can listen to this ‘Spotlight’ episode on Teacher Hug Radio on Saturday 10th July.
It was obvious from my research that everyone associated with the school, from the parents to the staff, from the community to the pupils, is exceptionally proud of the school especially the work it has done over the last 12 months. Like everyone else, the school has found itself at the heart of a local community response to a global pandemic. Reassuring parents, supporting pupils and encouraging staff. Laxey and Dhoon School have been able to make progress in such challenging times: acquiring Flagship and Centre of Excellence status for inclusion; developing and strengthening parent partnerships and community engagement; supporting staff development leading to four teachers gaining promotion; innovative and new pedagogy in the online space; and, ensuring that their pupils make great progress and exceed any limit of ‘potential’ that is placed on their heads.
If they had to choose one word to encapsulate what their school does well they would say ‘relationships’. Relationships with pupils, relationships with staff, relationships with the locality, relationships with the wider community. People matter and that is the bedrock of their school.
The lockdown pattern in the Isle of Man differed from that on the UK mainland. The original lockdown was almost identical to that of the UK mainland in terms of levels of restrictions, time and length of the lockdown, and initial school responses. However, by the time of the second lockdown in January and the third in March 2021, all schools were completely closed to all pupils including vulnerable and key worker children due to the high infection rates in children and young people – around half of all cases. After the first lockdown where they had developed a remote learning response ‘on the go’ as had so many other schools the length and breadth of the country, they set about reviewing their remote provision and planning immediately so that if they went back into lockdown – as they did – they would be prepared in terms of resources, delivery and overall response. They felt they owed this kind of mentality and reaction to their families and pupils.
The Executive Headteacher, Max Kelly, gave up his summer holidays to run a series of online ‘live lessons’ via Zoom. In doing so they still recognised that it was a holiday period for children and staff, so the offer was entirely optional to families and pupils. Children were able to attend the online lessons every day, every now and again, or not at all. They made the offer in recognition of the fact that the previous school year had been heavily disrupted and some parents and children may wish to have used part of the six week summer holiday break to do some extra learning. They were offered as an additional set of optional lessons for all children to access.
Mr. Kelly reported that, for those children and families making use of the summer lessons, they saw it as an ideal opportunity to practise using the technology and to become familiar and more ‘expert’ in using the Zoom platform to deliver online learning. Clearly, it was felt that this was particularly useful in case schools were asked to close or partially close again in the wake of a second or third wave of COVID 19. Laxey and Dhoon, saw the summer period as the perfect moment to trial such a response; a chance to iron out the final flaws and an opportunity to refine lesson structure and online teaching methodology.
The first INSET day in September 2020 was then devoted to reflecting on the experience with the staff team, training them in delivering online lessons themselves, reviewing recordings of Mr. Kelly’s lessons and critiquing them so that they could draw on the best bits and improve those aspects which didn’t work so well. Then, should they ever need to in the future, the staff at the school would be ideally placed to roll out a full remote offer of live online lessons. From a leadership perspective, Mr. Kelly also demonstrated to his staff that he was prepared to put in the hard yards when it came to remote learning delivery, and this helped with his credibility enormously when he did, in fact, have to ask his teachers to begin a move towards live lessons in lockdown 2.0 onwards.
RESEARCH AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NEW PEDAGOGY
The move into Remote Learning and Live Lessons heralded an opportunity – and that excited Laxey and Dhoon School. Rather than being an inconvenience or difficulty, their schools choose to embrace the newness of the moment. In the midst of the chaos, an opportunity to be on the precipice of a new pedagogy that involved distance teaching, remote learning, and technology was professionally stimulating for the staff team and matched their culture and ethos of innovation and design. They set out to read, watch and learn from others – on Twitter, in books, in the news and from reaching out and talking to colleagues in other schools through their family network of Inclusion Quality Mark recognised institutions. They experimented, sought pupil feedback, parent feedback and staff feedback. Their staff meetings became learning forums for them to exchange ideas and talk about how they could make it all work. The result was an almost ‘self-taught’ pedagogy through informal action research. They also produced a range of infographics to help support parents in a user-friendly way.
Pupil voice is a key strength of Laxey and Dhoon Schools. I enjoyed talking to the School Council who told me all about their role. They were in the process of planning a whole school talent competition. The Pupil School Council maintains an ongoing ‘blog’. This is written entirely by them and demonstrates a flavour of the role of pupils across their school.
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