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No excuse for missed deadlines

As a subject leader in a secondary, you have no doubt recently had mock exams and seen their potential to crush the morale of an otherwise tough department. I hope you managed to rally the troops when they howled, "I've taught them nothing!"

Stay at your post: a fresh round of support will be needed when they begin to chase coursework.

It's a bit like herding cats: they go off in all directions. A good ploy is to prepare yourself for the worst. Anything better will be a bonus.

Make sure staff are prepped for all the excuses that could come their way. The "reasons" for missing coursework deadlines have become much more hi-tech now and can be quite mesmerising in their sophistication.

It is rare nowadays to hear that the baby scribbled on it, or the dog chewed it. Now, it's more to do with the abject failure of technology: the computer crashed, the internet was down, the printer ran out of ink, the coursework was successfully encrypted on to the memory stick but, alas, the password was forgotten.

You and your staff need all your wits about you.

One approach is to bluff your way through with assumed kindness. Rather than a rip-roaring telling-off, which after all is expected (and most savvy teenagers can cope with more than adequately), offer to help by phoning home to ask parents if they have managed to replace the ink cartridge, fix the computer, been successful in reconnecting to the internet. This focuses the mind, and the technical problems often vanish overnight. Or offer to walk the student and the rogue memory stick to your computer technician, who is - rest assured - highly qualified in recovering data. The trick is to counter technical excuses with hi-tech solutions.

As for the more mundane raft of excuses, be ready with clear strategies, ranging from compulsory after-school catch-up sessions to lunchtime detentions, letters home and - meanest, and most effective of all - the threat of withdrawing them from their favourite school activity.

If you do occasionally find a shred of sympathy for your recalcitrant students, it is sometimes worth discussing with them that coursework is the exam board requirement and something you have no control over, but you wish you had. Surprisingly, at times, the sympathy comes back the other way and the work slinks in.

Lindy Barclay, Deputy head of Redbridge Community School in Southampton.

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