Five myths about the final days of term

Haven't most schools been on holiday since early July or just showing back-to-back videos? Stephen Petty heaves a sigh

Stephen Petty

Teachers don't relax in empty classrooms at the end of term

Myth 1: Have the school holidays already begun? 

I start to get asked this question from about 1 July. Usually, it’s because the inquirer has noticed a slight drop in traffic on their journey into work. They associate this with schools beginning to close for the summer and a subsequent dropping-off in drop-offs. They are not entirely wrong. Some types of school did close some weeks ago. Just not our type of school. 

Also, if you ignore the shadows under our eyes, many of us have perhaps started to look as if we are on holiday. The sun has been shining. We may have sat marking in the garden and gained the classic summer Year 10 exam tan. In my case, this has been topped up thanks to our recent medieval week in Year 7, when I had the chance to parade around the sun-drenched school field dressed as a peasant pig-herder. 

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Myth 2: But things are at least winding down now, aren’t they?

On the contrary, staff seem to get more wound up at this stage of the year than at any other. We are tired. Some of us have been herding pigs for a week. That face of thunder could be down to just about anything, but it’s often linked to the finalised timetable for September. Perhaps we are losing a group that we wanted to keep, or are gaining one that we didn’t want. Maybe we feel we have too many exam classes – or maybe too few. And why have we been put in that room? 

Myth 3: But what about all the 'gained time' in the summer term? 

Primary school teachers will rightly respond: “What gained time?” Many secondary teachers will say the same, particularly if they mainly teach Years 7, 8 and 9. 

Even those who have now lost their Year 11s and Year 13s will argue that the time gained has, once again, been largely illusory, what with all the extra revision sessions, induction lessons and the like. 

Staff are now frustrated that they have again failed to achieve even a quarter of what they had hoped to in that so-called gained time. Meanwhile, those without gained time will merely feel the bitter injustice of not enjoying any such time at all. Frankly, both parties would be a lot happier if those with gained time simply spent those hours wearing hair shirts and whipping one another in the staffroom.

Myth 4: Don’t teachers spend the last few weeks of term mainly showing videos? 

Slapping on a video at the end of term has become increasingly rare. Some prefer to set a formal test. At the very least, the final lessons will feature some kind of game where students are still learning. 

All of this is completely justifiable. How can we convince parents and children that attendance is worthwhile in the final half-week of school (and perhaps postponing a holiday for) if we just show films? 

Myth 5: But at least you get to finish at lunchtime on the last day, don’t you? 

Actually, I have known several colleagues who believed this one, not always appreciating that we, unlike the pupils, are contractually obliged to stay at work until the end of the school day. 

And yes, that does mean attending those leaving speeches. There may be rumours that Frank’s departing words are going to take us deep into the summer holiday, but we should definitely be there. It’s important we show gratitude and support for leaving colleagues. And it’s the eve of the summer break – if there's one time in the year when we can spare the time, this is surely it. 

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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