Tuesday 3rd January
School reopens ahead of Inset tomorrow and pupils back Thursday. My first thought on entering the building is, “Is the heating working?” as we’ve had problems in recent months. I walk down corridors touching all the radiators and smiling, relieved that all is well ahead of tomorrow.
My plans for the day are placed on hold when I reach my desk. There is one of those tricky, unexpected problems waiting for me as if it has just jumped out of an interview in-tray exercise. It requires immediate action. Welcome to 2023!
With Inset not until tomorrow, it is mostly Support colleagues in today. It’s good that the School gets a day to set itself up so that we know the essentials are in place before everybody returns. I say “the School” and “set itself up”, but of course the too-often invisible work of great Support colleagues is the truly important work without which schools could not function. Much of my morning involves walking the school and literally or metaphorically shaking hands as I wish colleagues “All the best!” and ask about Christmas and time spent with families and friends.
The Head of our Sixth Form pops in about a couple of staffing matters. I then have a long call with HR, again about staffing matters. We truly do have wonderful colleagues here at RMS, but in a school of 1000 pupils and 300 staff there are most always human matters of one sort or another: births, sickness, babies, death – all the stages of family life every week of the year. It is this work that gives HR teams and headteachers a strong awareness of the most important things in life.
With one thing or another, by the time I go home for dinner I haven’t yet got around to writing my introductory words for Inset tomorrow. No problem as my role is little more than the warm welcome really.
Wednesday 4th January
Today was a lovely Inset Day. An 8:25am start is always a shock to the system for colleagues after a nice Christmas break, but as Insets go it was a good one. One big reason why it worked in Senior School and Sixth Form is the tone set by Mrs Roberts, who organises these days so very well. Structurally it worked too, with initial messages to all staff kept short, an external speaker who was a solid 7/10 and ran an active session, and then an afternoon of Dept time, which is always appreciated.
I attend the three-hour Senior/Sixth pedagogy session on effective Stretch-and-Challenge strategies in the morning. Sitting with colleagues (ideally those who you don’t usually sit with) and enjoying hearing different voices is one of the nicest things about the day, and I am on a lovely table filled with great colleagues, half science, half humanities. One great line I hear and that stays with me is, “Perhaps we need to rebrand what it is that an exercise book is for” as we discuss the merits of learning from making mistakes, and how best to militate against the fearful culture of perfectionism.
I then dash to our Prep School for a two-hour session from the charity ADD-vance on “Understanding Autism in Girls”. This is a session full of good knowledge about a topic of great importance, but by its conclusion I am reflecting on how tiring it is sitting still and learning for five hours – goodness knows how the pupils manage it every day of the week!
Thursday 5th January
The pupils are back, and so our school really comes to life. I love the first day of a new term, every single time and without exception. My only disappointment is that I’m not teaching today. The big hit of the day comes from our Catering team who welcome the pupils back with a “Build-your-own-Ramen” option at lunch that goes down very well.
Behind the scenes, one of my meetings is with colleagues considering IT Planning. We are a school that once used a little bit of Microsoft and some Apple but then became heavily invested in Google Classroom during the pandemic. We need to think about rationalising our technology ecosystem.
While it looks like a short week on paper, tonight is an 8pm finish for HoDs as it is Year 9 GCSE Options Evening. A late one on a cold January evening, but very much worth it for the pupils. They need information, reassurance, and chance to hear from a good range of different subjects. All this is provided for them, and while operationally there is always “Just this or that” to tweak, as a Head you quite often stand back and watch with pride as these events apparently “run themselves” so very well for pupils and parents.
Friday 6th January
There are a series of conversations this morning about how best to share our Five-Year Plan with parents next week. Abi in Marketing wishes to move it away from a PDF “with lists of words” to something more interactive including moving images on a hidden website. She convinces us of the merits of this option, and I am very pleased with the early work on this that she shows me later that day.
There are more meetings about human beings for me: a colleague receiving serious medical treatment; feedback to somebody who we didn’t offer a job to; and a handover chat with a great colleague who is moving on to an exciting new job. Much as we will miss her, it is a good move for her and I wish her every success.
First week back ends with another late finish as it is the Year 14 Celebration Evening. This is a lovely night run by the Head of our Sixth Form and her Deputy, celebrating one more time a wonderful year group that attained fab A Level grades in the summer before heading off on the beginning of their great adventure.
The students love the chance to all meet up again with friends that they haven’t seen for a few months. Their parents get to reflect on how proud they are of their incredible daughters, and I am told a few times from parents now with quieter households how much I need to appreciate every moment of my own daughters’ lives, yes, even those challenging teenage years. There is good food and wonderful conversation at a great celebration. Everybody goes home happy. It has been quite a long ‘short’ first week back, but a very good one which is always what matters most. I deserve a Saturday trip up to Anfield to watch the 3rd Round of the FA Cup with my eldest daughter and my father together on The Kop.