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School's out for summer, but the prom is truly 'in'

The last weeks of the summer term. There was a time when they represented a long wind down to the vacation as that bright light at the end of a very long tunnel came into sight. There was a time when certain staff might be seen sunbathing outside the staffroom in their "frees" or listening to the test match while doing the odd report or marking exam papers.

Not any more. It is now one of the busiest periods of the year. In the school calendar, this is the time of transition days, when the school is invaded by next year's incoming cohort, who are wide-eyed with awe at the size of their home-to-be and with the sudden realisation that they will become small fish in a very large sea come September.

It is also the time when staff wait expectantly as next year's timetables are revealed, usually followed by the inevitable long queue at the deputy head's door as they complain about the fact that they will have four frees on Monday morning and no more for the remainder of the week, or question why they always end up with the most difficult of Year 9 classes on a Friday afternoon.

It is the time of school sports days, when certain members of staff get to live out their fantasy of being TV commentators as they take command of the microphone.

It is a time to bid farewell to departing colleagues, and it is a time of last-minute interviews to fill last-minute vacancies.

For most students, it is a time when thoughts of exams are put firmly to the backs of their minds, at least for a few weeks. A time to put their books to one side and to enjoy themselves.

As I drive to the end-of-term "do" at my six-year-old's school one sunny July evening, I am reminded of another of the rituals that signal the end of the school year.

We drive past a local comprehensive and catch sight of a familiar scene. There is a flurry of colour and a gathering of excited youth. Boys in tuxedos, shades, gelled hair and shining countenance; girls with big hair, eye-catching gowns, matching corsages and the odd tiara. A vision of glitz, surrounded by proud and equally excited parents armed with cameras. And, of course, there is no ignoring what has become de rigueur on occasions such as these - the stretch limo.

No, they are not filming another series of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. This is a summer sixth-form prom. Or, if you are over the age of 30, the sixth-form ball. Or, if you are over 40, the leavers' disco. If you are over 50, the occasion was more likely to have consisted of an end-of-year assembly and a farewell handshake.

Opinions are divided on these events. For some it is a crass Americanised celebration of excess where those who can afford it (and some who can't) choose to splash out on the most lavish get-up possible in an attempt to be one of the "in" crowd, often egged on by the parents in their (maybe final) opportunity to be truly pushy in support of their little princes and princesses.

It is a great time for florists, suit-hire and limousine firms to make a fast buck. It is also an occasion that can sadly emphasise the bifurcation of a school's pupils into the "haves" and "have-nots". Not everyone can afford professional manicures, hair styling or even fake tans and handbags.

The alternative view is more prevalent. It is that this is a joyful coming-of-age experience of weighty significance and symbolism. A moment when the youngsters who so recently were those aforementioned young children, "all wide-eyed with awe" awaiting our guiding hand through the treacherous waters of adolescence, now emerge as independent, balanced young people ready for the world that lies in wait.

It is a time of goodbyes; a time to reminisce; a time to dress up and celebrate; a time to relate to their teachers as fellow adults - though for most the need to refer to "Sir" and "Miss" will remain for a very long time yet. It is a time to say goodbye to a chapter of their lives and to celebrate the beginning of a new one with optimism. It is, above all, a time to party.

Geraint Davies is head of arts at Llantarnam School in Cwmbran, Gwent.

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