Here for the glamour;Friday's child

15th January 1999 at 00:00
Cassandra Hilland on the misguided student

We all know about bolshie teenagers but Suzy seems peculiar to post-16 institutions. She goes against the whole "there by choice" ethos of further education. Suzy's not there to study - she wants a "trendy" life at glamorous "College".

Suzy is streetwise. She had sex way before 16. She flirts and craves attention. If she's in a relationship, it's a tempestuous one. She's probably doing soft drugs, and goes out most nights. Staff try to exert some control - tactfully at first. But Suzy will take great exception to suggestions about her study methods, lifestyle or attitudes. Suzy always knows best.

Suzy does have some practical common-sense but never pushes this. That's what makes her so tragic. Now she's in the sixth form, Suzy suspects that there are two things she hasn't got - she used to think she had it all. She isn't the latent genius she thought she was, and she can't cope with the increased A-level workload. But she will never, ever, admit she needs help. She refuses to accept her limitations. Working hard is for suckers. Instead, Suzy attacks and criticises.

Suddenly, she isn't good-natured and just a bit loud in class - she's a disruptive monster. Staff will challenge her, and get a mouthful. Suzy always implies that it is the teacher's fault that she is talking.

Now seriously worried, staff inform tutors. Meetings are held. Suzy flings the accusations. Not enough explanation supportencouragement. The well-meaning pastoral care staff promise to look into her claims. Instead of addressing Suzy, teaching techniques are scrutinised. Before anything can be done, there must be a mountain of damning evidence against the child.

Mock exam results are good indicators of performance. It's pitiful to see the scales drop from her eyes when she sees her marks, and finally accepts she has deluded herself. Even when she's left college (or been chucked out) - she usually reapplies the next year, arguing "What else can I do?" The Suzies of this world are allowed to exploit a sector that was set up before young people drifted into post-16 without fully considering their motives for being there. We fail them. They end up stuck in dead-end jobs - unqualified, bitter and wasted.

But they should never have been admitted to college in the first place. Perhaps we should get post-16s to apply for the "right" to be educated beyond school age - they should grasp from day one that it costs a lot in time, effort, and commitment to study. If we did that, Suzy could be happy in the choices she makes, instead of cursing us for allowing her to carry on with the wrong ones until it is too late.

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