Thursday 23 April 2015

The Last Lap - Dealing With Disaffection

It's one of those problems which has come up every year. The beginning of the Summer Term of Y13 and a number of pupils feel as if they have outgrown school. Much of its routine is irritating, and they can't wait to get out, and into the 'real world'. The irritation infects their motivation for their academic work, and rather than finishing well, with good feelings all round, there is a real risk of cynicism and sourness being the emotional colour-notes of May and June. So, what to do?

This morning, I addressed this head-on with our Y13 pupils. I asked them to give me an indication if they felt that they had already outgrown school and couldn't wait to leave. Bravely a good number raised their hands.  It seems to me that this is so normal (and yet may not feel it to the students) that schools have to react sympathetically to such students. And the approach we take is as follows:

First, it's reasonable - possibly right - for students to feel like this. Students in Y13 should feel ready to face the world by now. It'd be worrying if they all wanted to stay at school forever. Having students who want to leave and want to get on with their lives indicates that parents and school have raised young adults who have the appetite and ambition to make a go of their lives and fly the nest rather than waiting for winter within it. It's not a sign that school (or home) have done anything wrong - it's healthy.

Secondly, schools need to be reasonable. Why should Y13 pupils toe the school line at this late stage of their education? Well, there are good reasons, and they have to do with their positions as role models for younger pupils, the importance of consistent applications of expectations of students, and maintenance of the routine which students have become used to to sustain them through the stressful exam period. But it's also reasonable of Y13 pupils to ask why, and to get a good answer to that question.

Thirdly, students need to be given a picture of what it means to finish well. I recounted the member of our support staff who, in tears, came to tell me that he had received a thank you letter from a leaving family. He always tries to be more than just an employee, and supports pupils in matches, is interested in them as people and is always cheerful - all qualities picked up in the gratitude of this family. Leaving students have power - to encourage, to show gratitude, to reward, to become significant for decades to those they leave behind. I encourage our leavers to use this power for good, rather than merely to exercise a juvenile desire to disrupt. I encourage them to demonstrate their maturity in the quality of their finish.

Finally, I trust them. It's now up to our leavers to show the quality of young people they are by the way they conduct themselves from here to the finish line - and thereafter. I tell our leavers that this is only school - it's the menu, not the meal. The point of their lives has not been to do well at school, but to go on from school doing well, doing good, all the time, and to encourage each other in doing so.