Hungry for one last look at school

20th July 2007 at 01:00
Well, that's it for another year. We've had the awards ceremonies, the graduation, the senior prom, the annual community mass and the staff dressed as in their hippy youth entertaining the troops on the last day of term. Time to sit back, relax and reflect on another year gone and another improvement plan to check.

What I did notice this year, however, was the number of our leavers who found excuses to come back into school "just one last time". It may have been for a reference, for passport or driving licence applications or even, heaven forfend, to return the French book from S2 that has been propping up that shoogly table leg for the past four years. But, clearly, they couldn't quite walk away without one last look.

These welcome visitors were united in their appreciation of their school years and the efforts of staff, in and out of the classroom. Perhaps the biggest tribute to the education they had received lay in their ability to return to school and articulate those warm feelings.

Over my years in the profession, there has been a gradual development of rituals and preparations for school leaving all of them reflecting the tricky balancing act that is education. We want our pupils to feel valued but challenged, safe yet ready for adult life, comfortable but itchy for development. At our best, we hope we are turning out well-balanced, caring individuals, ready to make their mark on the world, aware of the progress they have made, but also receptive to further development.

It contrasts markedly with my own last day at school in 1970, when we were viewed with some suspicion by staff, especially the headmaster, who treated the sixth year in much the same way that De Gaulle reacted to the Paris student protesters in 1968 with a mixture of avoidance and fear.

Luckily, the leaving process is much more considered these days and, hopefully, much more positive for staff and pupils. Indeed, our "consumer research" tells us that the whole school experience is viewed more enthusiastically by most pupils these days.

I have to say, though, that my two favourite responses to our seniors' questionnaire statement "School would be better if... " were the following: "I didn't have to leave" and, with devastating honesty, "there was more food". See you next term.

Sean McPartlin is depute head of St Margaret's Academy, Livingston

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