Tuesday, May 25, 2010

GCSEs, study leave and hypocrisy

It’s that time of year when Year 11s SHOULD have gone on Study Leave. For our school, this would usually have happened about 10 days ago. This year, however, the powers-that-be (and I accept that I probably don’t appreciate all the legal niceties involved) have decided that the Year 11s should remain at school until this coming Thursday – one day before half-term. I’ve heard of other secondary schools having sent their Year 11s during the course of last week (and or even one where Study Leave started nearly a fortnight ago). I WAS going to have a rant about this in one of the Morning Briefings at our school last week, but decided it would all be pointless. Now I’ve calmed down a little, I thought I’d log down some of the issues (for reference this time next year perhaps!):
1. GCSEs started at the beginning of last week (admittedly, in dribs and drabs initially).
2. One of my many jobs is to ensure that all pupils within our House are properly registered twice daily. On the one hand, pupils have been told to report to the examination rooms 10 minutes before the start of their exam; on the other hand, pupils have been asked to register in their tutor rooms as normal – just 5 minutes before an exam is due to start (and those in our House have a five minute walk from the House Block to the examination room!). Rushing to an exam in a somewhat frantic state is not my idea of ideal preparation.
3. Of course, some Year 11 pupils (and I can’t say I blame them) have been going straight into their exams without registering and therefore they've been marked absent even if they're in school. By the same token, it’s very difficult to know who is truanting or simply absent due to sickness. The exams office duly tells us that "everyone who should be in the exam IS in the exam" but, the trouble is that we don't know what pupils have what exams when (let alone where)!
4. Apparently, one of the chief reasons for “hanging on to the Year 11s” is to try to ensure that they spend this crucial time revising. Horror of horrors, there are fears that, if (some) pupils were allowed to have early study leave, they wouldn’t revise and would then perform badly in their exams (and of course this would reflect very badly on the school!). Whilst this might be good for the less motivated pupils, it seems unfair on the conscientious and diligent ones.
5. So, instead, we have the daft scenario of Year 11s having their usual four lessons in the morning, grabbing a quick bite to eat and then going straight into their exam at 1.30pm. Again, in my view, not ideal exam preparation.
6. We’re now getting to the stage when the Year 11s are going into timetabled lessons for which they’ve already sat their GCSE. As a result, their teachers (not unreasonably) allow pupils to revise for their forthcoming subjects – in other words, teachers are required to work as child-minders.
7. I know from personal experience today with a Year 11 girl (normally a very level-headed young lady) who “lost it” in a lesson and came to see me in floods of tears – “Sir, I just can’t cope with lessons, revision AND exams!”. Part of me felt like sending her down to see one of the powers-that-be so they could witness some of the effects of “delayed Study Leave” – but, of course, I didn’t.
8. This isn’t anything like an isolated case. One of the other Assistant House Heads told me today that, since last Friday, he’s been fielding telephone calls from the parents of stressed pupils and had also had a couple of pupils turning up to his office in tears due to stress.
9. The irony (and huge inconsistency) is that, if you behave inappropriately or unacceptably, the chances are you will be sent on “Early Study Leave”. This happened, just this morning, to a Year 11 girl who truanted on Friday after sitting her morning exam (amongst other things). Frankly, I see this as a reward, not a punishment (and you can just imagine how this goes down with the well-behaved pupils!).
10. Back in March, some Year 11 boys were placed on Early Study Leave for a very serious incident (but, crucially, have still been taught on a one-to-one basis in the school’s special “behaviour unit”). I won’t go into the details but I (and the majority of other teachers) felt they should have been permanently excluded. I sent off a frustrated e-mail to the powers-that-be but simply received a response saying it was “almost impossible” to exclude Year 11 pupils unless there had been an assault or something similar (the reality is that it would apparently have cost the school £10,000 per pupil to permanently exclude them, so they didn’t). So instead, as a punishment, they received one-to-one tuition (again, as you might imagine, this didn’t go down well with their peers!). Last week, one of them threatened/confronted a teacher; as a result, the boy has been told not to return to school except for his exams (gosh, harsh stuff!). Part of me wanted to say: “so what did you expect?”. At the time of the original offence, one of my teacher colleagues sent me a copy of his e-mail to the powers-that-be. His final paragraph concluded: “All the work we do in PSHE points us and students in the direction of considering our own actions and how they might influence our lives and those of others. Are we not being massively hypocritical when we as an Educational Institution refuse to face up to our responsibilities and instead take the easy and politically cautious approach such as the one we appear to have taken?”.


vweb said...

So true, Steve, and well said. Our year 11 son's 'study leave' started yesterday, during a week of 4 exams. His 'study leave' is really just recovery time, with some quick review thrown in. He's doing well, but hasn't learned how to truly plan and walk through an extended time of study. I thought that was one of the well-regarded benefits of a British education. His older siblings learned much more - not only about the subject, but about the pattern and discipline of study.

Victor G

Anonymous said...

Steve I agree to a point but its the same every year the stress the tears etc, and yes I definately agree that the bridge was to bridge the gap not a holding bay to reward bad behaviour wrong message. Real world of employment does not say he/she are no good a promote them !!