A stitch (or tie) in time ..

4th February 2011 at 00:00

Study leave - a misnomer for some of Scotland's pupils, if ever there was one. I'm not sure who looks forward to it more - them or the staff. But I'm damn sure that the pupils who do no work in school do no work at home either.

Sometimes, it's because they don't actually realise what revision is -and the reality is that jotters and worksheets are illegible anyway. Even if they could read their own writing, many of them took little notice when it was being taught, and would not have been able to tell you what it was about the day it was written.

More frustrating are those kids who don't care. They will shrug and be unable to tell you why. Is it because they haven't understood for years and have given up? Or that they come from homes where education counts for little and the dole queue awaits them?

Or are they the youngsters who were showing clear signs of disaffection in the first year?

You can see the kids who will be the failures in S4 - the boys have long, scruffy hair, no ties, two inches of underpants on show: miniature versions of the big bad boys. The girls have no ties, tiny skirts with two inches of pants on show and studied bored expressions.

The tragedy is that the fourth years begin to believe that maybe, just maybe, they have done quite well in their exams.

And it is horrible for them getting failed papers back. Horrible to have it there in black and white that you are stupid. Horrible to have to pretend you don't care to the others, not to be able to go home with a big smile on your face. Being proved stupid doesn't feel good.

There has never been a time in all my teaching years when there weren't horrendous classes, so bad kids are nothing new. But now, up and down the country, there are more and more bad first year pupils. Unless we can recapture their enthusiasm, we are going to have to deal with more and more failed pupils in S4.

Is it impossible to insist all pupils wear a tie to school, carry their own jotters each day and show some respect? Is it asking too much to notice the little ones who are behaving badly in first year and get staff singing from the same hymn sheet to deal with them? If we wait until third or fourth year, it is way too late.

There is one great advantage to identifying recalcitrant brats in S1. They will respond to punishment. A 15-year-old might not even turn up to detention - but a first year will, and will learn from it. Older pupils might tear up a punishment exercise, but a younger child will do it. Parents have often lost control of a fourth year lout, but will respond more co-operatively with staff dealing with a first year.

And peer pressure can be roped in. I don't see why every pupil can't wear a school tie - but I absolutely believe that every first and second year child should. If you can't get them to obey such a small rule, what hope for the big ones?

Catch these kids when they are small and study leave in S4 might deserve its name.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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