The Year 11 Tipping PointFebruary 17, 2008
For several decades now the thrust of education policy has been to keep students in school for a larger and larger part of their life. A leaving age of 15 became practice in 1947. This was raised to 16 in 1973. From 1998 it was established that students could not leave until the end of June (previously they could leave at Easter or the end of May according to when their birthday fell) and any student leaving before then would be counted as absent. The school leaving age is currently being raised to 18, to the horror of many teachers.
In a tough school there are many year 11s who would have been better off leaving earlier rather than later. They think they are adults and as long as the adults around them, parents and teachers, insist on indulging them they are unlikely to think otherwise. From about the Christmas of year 11 students start dropping out. Nobody bothers to chase up the attendance of students of this age. Worse though are those students who remain in school, but have completely opted out of any activity that they don’t personally enjoy. Internal truancy (also known as “wagging lessons”) becomes a popular strategy and one that often serves the interests of their teachers and classmates.
Unfortunately, many students remain in attendance but completely divorced from the reality of being students. This is a separate phenomena from the usual resistance to education that students exhibit. This is not the worst kids, it is not designed to thwart efforts to educate them, and it is not done to disrupt the learning of others. It is simply that they have reached their personal Tipping Point, the point where they have decided that their presence in school is unconnected to learning (or at least learning some particular subjects) and, unlike disenchanted students earlier in their school careers who are actively seeking confrontation, they expect everyone else to have acknowledged this. Week by week, one by one, one student after another will start exhibiting the following pattern of behaviour:
- Turning up later and later to the lesson.
- Not working at all.
- Losing their temper if given an instruction (any instruction).
- Walking out of lessons and encouraging others to join them.
Sometimes they can be brought back from the brink by intervention, usually in the form of Head of Year or SMT telling them that they need to cooperate with all their teachers or go on study leave. Often they can’t cooperate and their teachers are left waiting for somebody more important who is willing to carry out the threat and send them home.
The whole process is made even worse by the presence in the curriculum of various vocational courses that are assessed purely by coursework. When the coursework is complete students are left with nothing to do. In subjects with a large ICT component they can be given free time to play on the computers, for several hours each week, making it even worse for anyone teaching a subject where they are still expected to work.
The situation deteriorates continually from Christmas onwards. Teachers begin counting the days until Year 11 leaves. Often disorder becomes so bad that a week or two before the scheduled end date year 11 are sent away. Some schools do not declare the leaving date in advance. If students are pre-warned and expecting the end they will carefully plan their last day. If a school is fortunate this will take the form of an unprecedented amount of truancy. If a school is unfortunate it can take the form of bringing eggs and bags of flour onto the site and throwing them around or even seeking physical retribution on members of staff they have a grudge against. Many schools benefit from a police presence on the last day of term. Even after Year 11 have left staff often have to guard all the doors to stop them forcing their way back in to cause trouble.
And now we look like we are going to have the situation where four months after they are escorted off the premises to the collective sigh of relief of all the teaching staff, we, or other local colleges or training providers, have to take them all back again. God help us all.