What keeps me awake at night - Trust them to study at home, it's better for all

19th July 2013 at 01:00

Study leave: in my day (and in case you are wondering, I left school in 1999 not 1949, although there has been so much change in education recently it might as well have been the latter), study leave meant you left school for a week or more and you stayed at home and you studied. Nowadays, students are lucky if they get a cheeky Friday afternoon off.

I can see the argument for keeping children in school: they will not abuse the home-study time by watching Neighbours, and some do benefit from having structure. However, at my school, cancelling study leave in favour of dragging students into school did not work.

In lessons, the children were allowed to study for whichever exam they had next, rather than the subject being taught. This meant a child could be revising English in a physics class. Because there was not a "proper" lesson going on, students didn't take it all that seriously. As a result, the parents of the more studious young people complained and began creatively thinking of reasons for not sending their child into school. Some students complained, too, arguing that they were not getting any respite and were starting to feel frazzled so would be much better off at home.

Things were particularly harsh for special needs students. As a special needs teacher, a significant proportion of my caseload is physically disabled students, and they have been particularly affected by the stresses and strains of exam season. One student developed insomnia, which further weakened her immune system making her even more susceptible to infections; another dragged himself into every revision session despite having gastroenteritis (as well as the usual pain he endures owing to his cerebral palsy). And a third student was hospitalised for two days. He had a liver transplant three years ago and is vulnerable to bacterial infections of the gut, especially when under pressure. Working from home would have been better for all of them.

I think it is important that schools give students a bit more freedom to study independently and to trust that they will actually do the work. Surely facilitating independence is an essential part of education? But even more important is the welfare of our students. This reaction against study leave is not only misguided, it is also damaging our students.

The writer is a special needs teacher in East London.

Tell us what keeps you awake at night

Email jon.severs@tes.co.uk.

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