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I never can say goodbye

Goodbye - or is it au revoir? All over the country in the last few weeks, heads of Year 11 have been wracking their brains for something witty and poignant to say in their pupils' leaving ceremony.

This, you understand, contrasts starkly with the stream of nonsense contained in the record of achievement files themselves: "Julie has the ability to identify with help a limited range of resistant materials suitable for drilling holes in."

I have been looking forward to our ceremony. It is one of those markers of the teaching year that signals the start of the wind-down to summer. But as always, I dreaded the moment when I would be expected to write my own pithy comments in the autograph section of the pupils' file.

What do you write about a group of young people whom you have seen grow from excitable children through the unbearable Kevin and Perry stage into something resembling adults?

"I used to hate you but you're all right now." "Free at last." "I'll remember the good times - both of them!"

The day before the ceremony, in my final Year 11 lesson I brought in a big cake and said goodbye in what I thought was a more relaxed setting. I was still stumped at what earth-shattering advice I could give them to take on their first steps into adult life.

We ate cake while we revised and I told them about a friend who has worked all over the world. She often agrees to meet up for a goodbye meal or drink before one of her trips but rarely turns up as she hates goodbyes.

"I sometimes wish I could avoid saying goodbye too," I said, thinking of all the pathetic "have a nice life" comments I would be forced to write the next morning.

However, fate took a hand. A queasy feeling that I put down to raw emotion and too much sticky cake at 9.30 in the morning developed into the virus from hell by that night.

No ceremony, no goodbyes, no autographs for me. Just three days in bed with a large bowl and a headache like a George Best hangover.

Now, of course, I know what I would write in those books (isn't it easy to be wise after the event?) "Be careful what you wish for - it might come true." Not too obvious, and said with the voice of painful experience.

And talking of pain, how many of my star pupils have I infected in my misguided intention to give them a good send-off? Marie Antoinette didn't know what she was saying when she said: "Let them eat cake."

Never mind the revolution - what about my GCSE results?

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