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The main questions are: why did they do it, and who was involved? If lots of rampaging 16-year-olds hate their school with a fierce intensity, then the problem is more profound and deep-rooted than if two or three anti-social pupils are merely engaged in a pre- or post-GCSE prank.
The best solution is often the most open and frank. I would be tempted to raise the problem with a few, or indeed several, of the next Year 11 cohort and see what they have to say about it - whether they feel it was a one-off, or a symptom of deeper rage. Something that starts off on a small scale can soon become a "tradition" (that is, one year old) then the expectation changes for the worse as each year group tries to outdo previous ones and earn its place in school folklore.
You could take a heavy approach and make clear that no such tomfoolery will be tolerated in future, but if the explanation was down largely to high spirits and relief, then why not channel the anarchy into something positive? Good graffiti can be quite artistic, so you could have a wall or a set of large sheets of paper for people to write their own funny (not obscene) farewell messages.
Another option is to have an end-of-school review, where pupils can perform sketches, do impressions of members of staff, sing, dance and have a knees-up. Universities have a graduation ceremony, as do American high schools. We tend to drift quietly away, upper lip appropriately stiff. Even the young like rituals, though they may ridicule them if they are too pompous and adult-dominated, so involving the pupils themselves in planning a celebration is vital.
Get heavy or be nice?
We have had similar problems, which also can drag in other year groups. My suggestions include:
* threatening legal action for criminal damage;
* refusing entry to post-16 courses in school, if relevant (and trying to get a joint agreement with other local schools and colleges);
* on the day before the official last day of term, near to the end of school, telling Year 11 not to come in the following day;
* asking them nicely to behave.
Tony Terry, email
Stay one step ahead
Catch them out by dismissing them one or even two days before they expect it and cancel the timetable for their final week. Hold special revision classes instead, making sure that towards the end of the week the classes are in subjects with few pupils.
Sheila Ireland, Yorkshire
Make a special event of it
Preventing the end-of-year muck-up day in our school is based on giving the students something much better and a more memorable rite of passage. For the past few years we've organised a special assembly, invited available staff and presented documents and some humorous awards. These have become prestigious and sought after. The event is a positive way of saying goodbye. At the end of the assembly, form photos are taken which students can buy when they return to school for their first GCSE exam. The Year 11 prom is held later in the week.
Rob Haines, Wolverhampton
Give them something to look forward to
Set the tone well ahead. Get the head to speak to them in a special assembly, with tutors and senior staff present, about his or her expectations of the final few days and the consequences for anyone who steps out of line. Write to parents so there is no misunderstanding of the behaviour you expect.
Start planning in September and have a leavers' ball on the evening of the last day; make clear that tickets can be withdrawn for any reason. You'd be surprised how it keeps the kids sober and well behaved. Also, target those Year 11s who you think may spoil it for others. If possible, allow them to start study leave earlier if you feel they are in danger of letting themselves or the school down.
Karen Lang, email
Let them leave early
This is never easy to get right, as most Year 11s feel they have the right to let off steam, even if it is disruptive and beyond acceptability. Finish them at lunchtime and give them a special meal. Make sure all the staff attend to wish them farewell and see them off. They should all be off the premises before afternoon school starts.
H Hoffmann, south Wales
Organise a memorable farewell
We work with our Year 11 to ensure we manage the occasion together. As the day approaches we ask parents to keep major troublemakers at home. Then we spend some time reminding the others what they have done and how they have changed. This includes a presentation evening when we recognise their achievements. On the day itself they all sign each other's shirts. Then in the afternoon we have an extended assembly reminding them of funny incidents and characters, before we ease them gently out of school. We have tears and hugs but there is no damage and no one ends up in the pool.
Geoff Brookes, Swansea