Timetable buffoonery in June;Opinion

Hugh Reilly

TODAY should mark the end of the school year. For an increasing number of teachers, however, the new school session began on June 1.

A June timetable pleases management on many fronts. First, a tick can be put against that part of the development plan and incorporated into the current c.v. of those concerned. Second, it helps management to reach targets regarding pupil attendance. Third, it causes confusion among Educational Institute of Scotland members as the union's diaries don't begin until August. It also helps to convince the cynical public that teachers are not freewheeling towards the over generous summer holidays. Teachers must not be allowed to relax. Every piece of fat must be trimmed from the school year. (The usual lunch "hour" in Glasgow schools is now 50 minutes).

The plausible rationale for the changeover is that it gives extra teaching time for Scottish Qualifications Authority examinations, thereby raising standards of achievement. There is no proof that attainment has increased in those schools as a result of a June timetable. But, heck, when was the last time a school policy was evaluated? Initiating a policy is the key to that sought after Scottish Office post, not spending time assessing its worth.

It is a sham and everyone knows it. The "concerned" parents who applaud a June timetable are the same people who increasingly take the family package holiday either side of the summer vacation to avoid the prices teachers and their families are forced to pay. Some parents don't even bother to inform the school of their child's absence, let alone ask for permission. Others have the neck to ask for course materials so Johnny can study while basking in the Algarve.

Upper school class lists change out of all recognition from June to August, as Standard grade and Higher results fall short of expectations. My own subject, modern studies, is a popular receptacle for "crash course" sixth formers, a.k.a. the Failed Ones. Repeat lessons are, however, the order of the day. Why? If candidates fail they may point out to the senior management team that a part of the course was taught when they couldn't possibly have been present. Guess who the fickle finger of fate points to?

A major problem is the lack of available textbooks on June 1 due to SQA students perceiving them as souvenirs of the happiest days of their lives. Previously departments had a month to phone, letter and generally harass thieves. Today the chasing period is down to a few days at the end of the diet.

A bonus for non-promoted staff is that S1 don't arrive until August, thus a few buckshee periods can be whiled away discussing how the Extended Management Team always manages to hive off Higher classes.

As a sop to the reality that kids don't want to be taught in June, some schools have introduced an activity week. Some souls organise trips, but as I'm not seeking promotion I pass on them.

It is pleasing to report that, despite the bully-boy tactics of adults, most children are still beginning their school holidays around the second week in June. Teaching is stressful and staff need time to relax. I firmly believe pupils also need time to socialise with teachers in a more convivial atmosphere.

I can count on Government support for my thoughts. In the early eighties if I had a free period, or rather a non-class contact period, I sometimes went for a run along the banks of the canal. I was not alone. My squash partner, John McFall, often did the same thing. Now a Minister, I am sure he is making Brian Wilson aware of the benefits of a summer wind down.

Hopefully the implementation of Higher Still will end June timetable buffoonery. Enough of this rant. I couldn't care less to be honest. I'm off to Spain. Happy new year whenever it comes to you!

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Hugh Reilly

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