Just chill? Not with results to keep us hot and bothered

7th August 2009 at 01:00

Teachers and holidays have a very strange relationship. The outside world looks on with envy as the six-week summer holiday gets under way. Teachers respond by quoting the number of hours they work in term time, and how when it's evened out they actually get less holiday than everyone else. Then they return in September, complaining how it went too quickly, how they could really do with another fortnight and how they could not afford to go anywhere anyway.

The teaching year has a bizarre rhythm. The pace is either full on or off. There used to be a lull at the end of the summer term, but there is now so much change and planning for the coming year that even June and July go at Lewis Hamilton speed.

So it's no wonder that some teachers spend the first week of the holiday in deep exhaustion; others are felled by the flu they have been fending off for weeks; adrenaline junkies like me have to undergo forced relaxation therapy.

"Just chill, Dad!" scream my irritated children. Intravenous lager and white wine begin to do the trick, and my heart rate starts to slow, when suddenly results days rip across the calm of the summer holiday like a baby's cries shattering a night's sleep.

It's time to wake up for A-level results, then try to get back to sleep. A week later it's time for GCSE results, but there's no point in trying to sleep because soon it's back to school. Was that the holiday?

What are you going to do on results days? I'm fascinated by the range of responses. I love the teachers who arrive early, pore over the lists and scream with delight when a pupil they teach has done better than expected. I admire the heads of department who soberly ask how the school has done before rapidly calculating their own departmental pass rates and residuals.

In these days of work-life balance, I have grudging respect for the ones who allow results to wait until September so that they can continue an uninterrupted holiday. As a head, I want to be there to make sure we always find something to celebrate. My press releases for results always start by saying: "Staff and students are thrilled at this year's results ..." I then add adjectives depending on the success. They might be very good, wonderful, stunning or record-breaking results, but nothing less.

It's a bittersweet day. It's great when you meet your targets for five A*-C grades with or without English and maths or butterscotch topping or whatever else happens to be the Government's flavour of the year. We will always try to find some excuse to welcome staff with a glass of champagne as they arrive. Yet even as the cork pops, deep down you know it's all rather silly.

Last year, 200 pupils in our school took a total of 2,132 GCSEs. All those who gained C in English and maths also gained at least three other C grades. If 10 pupils miss only their maths by just one grade, that's 5 per cent down on the government benchmark figure, and that can mean the difference between happiness and damnation.

At the higher end of the spectrum, you can lose the chance of a second specialism or you're labelled "coasting". At the dodgier end, you could drop below the magic 30 per cent, you suddenly find National Challenge branded on your front door, you're spiralling down into a failing school under threat of closure. Abandon ship, send for Ofsted! It's bonkers.

In the end, you just have to hang on to what it's really about. I looked out of my window at 9am on results day last year to see Darren and Carly walking into school. This was surprising, first because we release results at 11am, and second because Darren had shown no interest in school for some time.

Let's call him a lovable rogue, a back-row boy, a frequent truant since his mum left him to join her new boyfriend in Ireland and a permanent truant from the time he fell for Carly. When they appeared in school, they were surgically joined. More often they stayed away. Who knows what they were doing, but it wasn't homework.

It was not surprising to see him at the wrong time; he never listened to instructions. It was just amazing that he cared enough to want his results, and two hours early at that. My face cracked wide at what he did next. It was a warm day and he was bare-chested. He hesitated in front of the door, let go of Carly's hand, carefully put his shirt on and then came in. Somewhere deep, it was the respectful gesture of a man about to enter a church.

And in myriad different ways, that's what results days are really about: the inexhaustible ability of kids to surprise and delight us. Maybe you can look forward to returning to school in September after all.

Roger Pope, Principal, Kingsbridge Community College, Devon.

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