"My sons were known as individuals by all the staff... There were many many opportunities to achieve and develop" (Leavers Parent Survey Autumn 2015)
Head's Blog -
Here is your chance to find out what it is like to be the Headteacher of our fantastic school......
Tuesday 24th October..... I was in the playground the other day and from behind me I heard a little girl's voice "Oh, dear me.... ". I turned around to find out who was behind me and as I did so she said, "Mr Brennan I nearly hugged you then - I thought you were my Grandad!" So it has come to this!!!!
Thursday 19th October 2017..... It really is a great mistake to assume you know everything about a child. They can and do constantly surprise me! A little boy recently - just walking through the hall, stopped me and showed me a certificate he was obviously very proud of. When I looked at it I could see it was from an organisation called 'Start a Heart' or something similar. The boy (aged 6) had attended a session for children on CPR with his cousin, who is in Y4. He was able to tell me about how to check someone was conscious, ring for help on 999 and how to even hold your palms together to do compressions if necessary. WOW! I was so impressed! On the same subject, I was with our wonderful Y6 children yesterday on their pilgrimage to Fountains Abbey. As we were walking along I got talking to a Y6 boy and quite by chance I found out that he does a lot of angling in his spare time! I never knew that and it opened a whole new world to me as he spoke about this hobby and especially liked telling me about the biggest fish he had ever caught and described his extending fishing rod! Again - WOW!
On another subject, but again one that deserves a WOW..... There is a girl in our Y6 at the moment who, because of moving away from the vicinity of the school is now getting two buses to school and two back home every night, all on her own! Now I know that seems a big thing, and perhaps potentially quite a dangerous thing for a 10/11yr old to be doing, but she has been determined to stay at St Mary's for her final year at school and this is the only way that can be achieved. She is doing so well and is growing so much in confidence and maturity - I am so proud of her!! I DO tell her that by the way!
Friday 22nd September 2017..... Just spent the day with 60+ Headteachers from other Calderdale schools. Among the people giving us lots of positives (something even teachers need every now and then) was a great speaker called David Cameron - No not that one! He asked us to look at the You Tube clip below whenever we doubt the impact a great teacher can have on a child.... It made most of cry!
The thing about this clip that is so amazing is that the guy who was his teacher isn't some kind of Superman and doesn't really strike me as the owner of a magnificently charismatic persona! He is just ordinary! ..... "To the world you are just one person. But to one person you may be the world!"
Monday 4th September 2017 ...... Training Day for the teachers today. We were joined by some TAs and other support staff, as well as some Governors and had a great day reviewing our mission as a school. We came up with a great document which is very brief and straight forward and which we feel describes what we are about very well. When we roll it out to everyone else we hope they will agree... especially the children! Another Training Day tomorrow - Safeguarding. Then the real work begins as all our 'customers' arrive! Can't wait to be back with them all.... excited, well rested, full of energy!
Wednesday 19th July 2017..... This time last year we were on holiday! Just another two days to go until we break for a nice 6 week rest! Sorry to everyone out there who doesn't have that length of holiday, but I hope you won't mind me having a brief moment of excitement! We celebrated our End of Year Mass yesterday and as I looked across the ranks of children (including the ones at the very front who were mostly either asleep or well on the way) I realised how worn out they all look - and that is just the teachers!!!
Our wonderful Y6 children leave us on Friday to go off into the world and be the best people they can be! We are very proud of them and will miss them in September I'm certain. At the other end of the school we will have a new set of children to work with, to mould, foster, support, stimulate and to nurture - such a privilege!
We are also saying goodbye to Mrs Gordon today (who has been with us since 2006) and Mrs Bell leaves us on Friday, having worked in the school since Spring half-term. I wish them both all the luck and success and happiness possible and pray they will always remember us in their thoughts and prayers.
Wednesday 28th June 2017..... I am sure those among you who are the parents of young adults or teenagers will know about the way children start to morph from their lovely, innocent, willing, compliant and energetic selves into a new and quite horrific persona around the age of 11 - 13 (ish). This phenomena is definitely starting to happen here with our Y6 as they see the finishing line of their journey through our school! Don't get me wrong - I love them all to bits and I am so proud of them as they turn more and more into human beings who will be facing what is quite a challenging world these days! They will need all the confidence and bravado and attitude they can muster over the next few years! I was talking to one boy - who has been a particular success in terms of the journey he has travelled this year - was in my office the other day for a 'little chat' about the need for him to review his current behaviour trends. I told him that it would be good if he could avoid being a 'Kevin' for at least the next few weeks. Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about so I thought I would enlighten him by showing him the attached clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLuEY6jN6gY ....... His reaction at the end was "That's not me!?" True.... but not long before it is I thought to myself!! Actually he has been better since that conversation!
Wednesday 7th June 2017...... After a lovely break at half-term (mainly because I was in Tenerife!) we are starting the last run towards the Summer holidays hitting the ground. We have an S48 Inspection going on that started today and of course that always brings challenges - but mainly because I love our school so much and want the great work we do to be recognised. Please pray for us. On a slightly related topic, but a bit 'outside the box' I had to laugh when today I was in the middle of a very serious conversation with Fr Martin (our Parish Priest) in my room and was interupted by a knock on the door. The two girls I was confronted with (Y4s) didn't really observe any formalities and just went straight into the question they needed to ask me "Mr Brennan, we were just wondering if you could tell us how we know God really exists?" OMG! ..... with the Parish Priest sat there listening!! I did manage to give them an answer and I think it satisfied them! Not sure whether Fr Martin was impressed - he didn't comment when they had gone away! :-)
Friday 12th May 2017... So there I was taking a group of Y2 children in a hired mini-bus to Sowerby Church Institute Cricket Ground. Listening to the conversations between the children in the back was so funny.... I had to share it with you. "My dad has bought a Range Rover, that is smaller than a Land Rover and it is costing £500!! That is a lot of money isn't it?!" "I go to India a lot. It takes 12 days to travel there and back.... I have spent my entire life going to and coming back from India!" "I hate India because it is too hot!" "I love India because you can get candy and icecream there..... you can also get it in Manchester you know!" "My sister has started wearing my Mum's scarf you know..... but if my mum needs it she has to give it back." Children are ace!!
Tuesday 9th May 2017.... Apologies for not getting the chance to write for a few weeks. I was away in Keswick with our fabulous Y6 in the final week of the term. They were of course a real credit to us and their parents in the way they all approached the week together. There were a few individual stars - you know who you are!!
The new Summer term started with lots of revision for Y2 and Y6 as the SATs approached. I walked into a group of Y2s doing a Reading test this morning. The teacher was reading the questions!!! I was about to question this and make quite a fuss about cheating, when I realised she was reading the first page of the test - it was a practice question to help them understand how to complete the rest of the questions on their own! The Y6 have so far done the Reading Comprehension, Spelling and Grammar and Punctuation tests as I write. They have the Maths papers to do tomorrow and Thursday. We always call on all the help we can get with SATs in Y6 so a prayer and a decade of the Holy Rosary is said before we start each day, positive phrases are read out by the teachers and cotton buds infused with lavender oil are placed in the classrooms!!! Don't laugh.... I'm not joking!!
Monday 27th March 2017.... We have had a very busy couple of weeks as the events of Lent have really started to happen. The Soup and Bread Lunch last week and the Stations of the Cross today are always really inspiring. Red Nose Day of course also gave me a lot to be proud of our children for! The week before last I was with Y5 at Ampleforth for their Retreat, and the move to this new venue, following the closure of Myddelton Grange was definitely a positive one. The children loved it, especially the Compline Prayers in the low lit light of the Abbey. The loud boom and vibration of the bell was absolutely awe inspiring! Next week I am in Keswick again with Y6 for their 5 days of adventure! I know there will be so many occasions during this experience when I will again be so proud of our pupils!
I can't go into details of course, but there have also been parts of life at St Mary's that have been hard to cope with in recent weeks. The good always outweighs the bad by a long chalk..... the day that changes will be my time to go!
Tuesday 14th February ...... I had just finished the KS2 Assembly, having spent about 30 minutes talking to the children about the small things we can all do to make a positive difference to those around us. We had looked at a short video on 'Random acts of kindness' and read The Widows Mite from the Gospel. The children had thought about lots of ideas to apply this idea to their daily lives at home and in school. As the children were leaving the hall one little boy in Y3 put his hand up and called me over to him. "Mr Brennan, I think you are half man and half God!" I smiled and asked him why he thought that. He said, "Because you teach us things that help us to be good, like Jesus did".
Thursday 19th January 2017..... Back for the new year and things have begun with a smash! Year Y3 and Y4 have started their topic on Greece/Ancient Greece by smashing plates in the playground - you can imagine their excitement I'm sure!
Friday 9th December 2016..... It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas!! Beautiful Trees in both halls and lots of sparkling, glittering displays with numerous crib scenes and Advent Wreaths all over school. But actually that is the point - It is NOT Christmas and won't be for another two weeks! It is very important for me that we don't let children fall into the pattern that most of society seems to portray at this time of year nowadays, and go on and on about Christmas weeks before we get there, ignoring the very important preparation time that is Advent!
We had our Nativity Performance from FS and KS1 yesterday and it was great to see so many parents and grandparents completely filling the Hall. Things got a bit challenging when - just as I started my thank you speech a child in front of me wrenched a full load of very smelly vomit all over the floor! I don't think it spoiled the speech - there wasn't much to spoil to be honest!
A little girl has handed some pennies into the Office this morning "for the Gerbil"..... I think she means the Camel we are saving up for, which we will be buying through CAFOD this Advent!
Advent Fayre this afternoon after school.... the new member of the PTA Committee have done a great job with the organisation; all we need now is lots of people to support it!
Wednesday 9th November 2016..... Two amusing stories for you today. A boy came to the office just before the half-term holiday (but still during the month of October, when we give children Travelling Rosary Bags to take home and use with their families). He gave his bag to the School Secretary saying "I have finished with the Rosary Beans, and my Mum has told me to hand them back in".
This morning I was doing some drop-in visits to each class. When I went to one class I was told by the teacher that one of the children (who is Indian and has only lived in the UK for a few months) was convinced it must be Christmas Day today, because it was snowing!
Wednesday 19th October..... Don't you just love children!? We have had a small team of local headteachers in the school all day today conducting a review into aspects of our 'Safety, Well-being and Behaviour' systems. One of the team asked a group of Reception children whether they knew what 'British Values' were. One of them put up her hand and enthusiastically announced that she knew what they were! "What are they then?" said the surprised adult. "They are the things you put on top of Yorkshire Puddings I think" she replied.
In another area of school a boy in Y4 was discovered at lunchtime weeing against a tree in the KS2 playground!! Thankfully none of the visitors saw him, but this child, who is NEVER in any trouble and is the 'perfect' model pupil normally, decided to go AWOL on his toileting habits because as he put it "My friend dared me to do it." ......... oh well that's ok then!
Monday 10th October...... It is really important to occasionally remind myself about some basics!! We have the LA Auditor in school this week and one of the items she has asked me to produce is the Mission of the school - what is St Mary's for?? Good question!! Actually it isn't very complicated if you look at the founding document of the school (Instrument of Governance)....
"The school was founded by and is part of the Catholic Church. The school is to be conducted
a) religious education is to be in accordance with the teachings, doctrines, discipline and general and particular norms of the Catholic Church;
b)religious worship is to be in accordance with the rites, practices, discipline and liturgical norms of the Catholic Church;
and at all times the school is to serve as a witness to the Catholic faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ."
I sent out a survey recently to parents of former pupils now at high schools. One reply to the question "What did we do well?" particularly pleased me..... "The school prepared children to learn more about their Faith. They were given the opportunities to share celebrations of the Sacraments and Prayers." I think that means we managed to fulfil our core purpose with that child at least!!
Friday 23rd September..... We have welcomed a lot of new children into our school recently. Of course there have been the new Reception children, and they joined us in the main hall for the first time today for our Class Assembly, led by 6F. Not one of them fell asleep - which is a miracle in itself! Then of course there have been the new children coming into other year groups and from other schools, or even from other countries. These children always give us some challenges and opportunities in integrating them into the ethos and traditions and routines of St Mary's, but they also always eventually add to the rich tapestry of our school community in positive ways. Of course at the centre of our school life is our Catholic Faith. One girl who joined us in Y4 a few weeks ago came up to me at the end of the day today and said "Mr Brennan, I have never been in a school where we say prayers before." I asked her how that felt and she replied, "It is nice!".
Wednesday 7th September..... And so a longer than normal Summer comes to an end and we are all together again! I genuinely love the first day of school after the holidays. The children always seem to have grown and changed. They look so smart (for a few hours anyway!) and the school looks so clean and tidy and literally shining! We started the day with an Assembly and I showed the children a couple of video clips about Harry Brown (a former pupil), who is in the GB Paralympics Wheelchair Basketball Team in Rio. Harry lost the lower part of both his legs (below the knees) from Meningitis when he was a toddler. I asked the children to tell me what messages they thought we could take from the examples set by Olympians, Paralympians and particularly Harry. The first child put her hand up said, "No matter what the colour of your skin, the place you live, the religion you follow or the way your body looks, you can achieve anything if you are determined enough". I didn't need to say anything else!!!
Friday 15th July (2016) ....... End of the Summer Term and start of the Holidays! Just sitting calmly and quietly in my room before going home, having said 'Goodbye' to our wonderful Y6 and one or two other children that have left us today. We have also said goodbye to two very much respected and loved members of staff, Mrs Barnes and Miss Byrne. The school will be a different place when we return in September, but it will also be the same place because of all the tradition, ethos and atmosphere we have been handed down by previous generations. Our school will be 170 years old next year!!! Sometimes I feel that age myself! Have a great holiday everyone. See you in September!!
Friday 8th July ....... Well, we are moving rapidly towards next Friday - the last day of the 190 school days we have completed this year. I have to say that this term especially has absolutely flown by and it doesn't seem that long ago since we were returning after the Christmas holidays, let alone Easter. Time does indeed fly sometimes! Just over 7 years ago I was making my pre-start visits to St Mary's before beginning the role as Headteacher in the September of 2009. During those visits I learnt a lot about what sort of school it was and I knew even then that it was a place I could be happy and make a difference. The school is very different in many ways, not least the make-up of the community it serves and the staff that have left and come to join us. But the essence, the mission, the ethos has not changed very much at all. This is still a great community where we live, learn and above all laugh together in God's love! That's not just me saying it - tonight I chatted with a parent who has two children who have only just joined the school this week. She said lots of nice things about the welcome she and the children had received, but one thing she said really made me smile, "I can't believe how welcoming this school has been, how quickly the children have settled and much they already love St Mary's". Long may it continue!!!
Monday 13th June...... I was joined in my office today by a little boy from Y3 who had just finished a session in the ICT Suite. He reported enthusiastically that he had come to see me because "I have just had the best lesson of my whole life Mr Brennan!" He had only been creating a picture of an Octopus using cutting and pasting, but he had obviously enjoyed it! As a teacher told me after he had gone.... that kind of reaction is just why we work with children, and we should not forget it!
Friday 27th May ....... Another half-term over and only one more to go this year. Time has really flown by in the last few months and I am amazed that we are already talking about the end of year activities and even looking towards September! Without giving away details, it has certainly been hard being the headteacher of this fabulous school this week and last...... Though I still have to keep reminding myself that it is all for the children in my care! That is what keeps me going!
Wednesday 11th May ....... SATs (Day 3) completed. Lots of very disruptive and frustrating issues I could talk about, but I won't. Instead, I wanted to share two lighter moments from today with you as follows - At the end of the first test (Arithmetic) two teachers and I were putting the completed papers into their sealed packages and noticed that one of the boys had completed the front page, where individual details are recorded, in a slightly odd way. For his date of birth he had written DAY: Friday, MONTH: April, YEAR: 2005. When we checked with him he said, "Well my Mum says I was born on a Friday!"
During the second test later that morning (Reasoning) the same boy put his hand up for help from a teacher. I went over to him and asked him if he was OK. To this
When I read the question I discovered why he felt hungry. The question was all about calculating quantities of Strawberries, Jam and Sugar! Needless to say, I smiled and then suggested he get on with the test!!
Monday 9th May ..... I returned to school on Friday, following my very special four days on Retreat in Rome. There were 10 of us altogether - all Catholic Headteachers serving as leaders in Catholic Primary Schools across the Diocese of Leeds. It was an opportunity to step aside from the day-to-day stress and rush of school life and to spend some quality time praying, thinking, reflecting and sharing. We were accompanied and led by Fr Tim Swinglehurst and the Diocesan Headteachers' Well-being Coordinator, Mrs Karen Naik. Our visit was based at Villa Palazzola on Lake Albano. We visited St Peter's Basilica, the excavations below it, Ostia (an old Roman settlement) and Assisi, the home of St Francis and St Clare. I showed the children some of my photos this afternoon - "Did you see Pope Francis Mr Brennan?" was one of the questions I received, as well as, "Did you speak Italian when you were there?" My answer to both questions was the same!!!
Monday 11th April ...... Just back from Keswick where I have shared a great week with our Year 6. The children were brilliant most of the time - though I am not entirely sure that is how I felt on Wednesday and Thursday night at 11pm when I was sitting outside two of the boys rooms 'to help them settle'. The time away always throws up surprises in what we see from the children. Some that you think will cope easily sometimes struggle and others that you think will not cope, handle it all so easily. That in itself helps us to get to know them better and see them in a wider, newer light!
Friday 11th March ...... I honestly sometimes wonder whether I have landed on a different planet. I was at a meeting last night for School ICT Technicians. I am of course not able to count myself as their equal in terms of my ICT abilities, but I was there because Mrs Hinsley (who can claim that level of aptitude and more) couldn't be. Here is a list of just a few of the words that were used during the meeting: Kcomm, Janet, yhgfl, proxy, smooth wall, multiple redundancy, azure, Google Chrome, cloud storage, 100mbps, terabyte capacity, open proxy, transparent proxy, ip address...... the list could go on for a lot longer but I won't bore you. Either I am living on new planet and didn't perceive the abduction process, or I am just turning into my Dad!
Thursday 10th March...... A boy came into my room today with a crumpled-up piece of paper in his hands. He was accompanied by one of our Teaching Assistants who informed me that he had been sent to me by the teacher because he had decided his chalk picture of a face was 'rubbish' and should go in the bin. I asked if I could have a look and admittedly it was a very simple and strange depiction of a face - bright colours, asymmetrical lines, unbalanced features. I asked him who he had drawn his inspiration from and he announced that he was trying to make the face look like a Picasso-style piece. I quickly Googled him some images of Picasso works and as we looked at them he began to visibly change his mood. "In my opinion your work is better than Picasso's" I told him. He cheered up and after we had photocopied the work to get rid of the creases and folds, he went back to class as an ARTIST!!
Tuesday 1st March....... subordinate clauses, synonyms and antonyms, colons and dashes, inverted commas, adverbs and paragraphs, semi-colons and ellipsis!! Lots more to boot and all illustrated and analysed and explained to a very pleasing number of KS2 parents who have attended our 2
'Eats Shoots and Leaves' (By Lynn Truss) is a great light-hearted book to read if you want to understand the ludicrously funny and frustrating and complicated place we have reached with the written form of our national language. I would strongly recommend it!
Friday 12th February ............ It is always sad to say goodbye to people and especially when you have worked successfully with them and respected them and valued their advice. Mgr. Smith left us at the beginning of this week to move to St Austin's in Wakefield as their new PP. The staff, governors and children wished him 'good luck' and expressed their gratitude for his support for St Mary's over the past 27 years (and more) last Friday. The parishioners said their goodbyes of course on Sunday last weekend. Personally, I wanted to express my thanks to Mgr. Smith for his ever present listening ear, understanding patience and positive encouragement during my time as headteacher of St Mary's beginning in September 2009.
We also said hello and welcome of course, to Fr Martin Kelly, who is our new PP. The whole school (280 pupils) walked to Church on Ash Wednesday to celebrate Fr Martin's first Mass with the parish. The Church was packed with children and parents and parishioners. The Choir were wonderful, singing two pieces in
Tuesday 12th January 2016 ....... I hope you all had a really good Christmas and New Year, whatever you were doing. We came back to school on the 4th of January and celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany with Mass on the 7th January. Of course all the main Christmas decorations have come down but we will keep a few up for the moment, until the end of the Christmas Season. In Rome the Church doesn't stop displaying the Nativity Scene until the Feast of the Presentation on 2nd February (otherwise known as 'Candlemas'). This date marks the 40th day since we celebrated the birth of Jesus and was traditionally the day a Jewish family would formally present their child to the Temple officials. The Church traditionally blesses all the candles that will be used in services for the coming year on this day - hence the alternative name.
We have received news with mixed feelings, that Mgr Smith will be leaving our Parish and his role as Chair of Governors in the first week of February after being associated with the Parish and school for around 27 years. We will miss Mgr Smith of course. He has always been very supportive of our school! At the same time, we wish him lots of good fortune and a warm welcome from his new parish and schools in Wakefield. Fr Martin Kelly will be replacing Mgr. Smith and I am sure everyone will want to ensure he gets a very warm and enthusiastic welcome around the 10th of February.
Friday 18th December ..... A long and tiresome term, especially the last few weeks as the excitement of Advent and the approach of Christmas has marched upon us. At the same time it cannot be denied that this term is always my favourite because it seems so often to be the one where we see God's wonder and awe in so many places and activities and fleeting moments. The final assembly of the year is always special to us. We get together as a school (without parents - the one occasion through the whole year when we don't invite them), to hear the simple - but so special - story of Jesus' birth. We sing some carols and Christmas favourites, like 'Rudolf', and listen to poems and funny stories. We light the whole of the Advent Wreath (including the white candle) and we wish everyone a Happy Christmas! We DON'T mention the Wise Men / Kings.... because we save their feast for our return to school in January!