Diary of a subject leader
Real issues in the life of a fictional Subject Leader
I wrote a while ago about the “walking-through-treacle” effect of Year 11 and how they were so exhausting to motivate. Well... we have just had our mock exam period and I have to say (apart from a few higher tier lads that thought an impromptu round of coughing would be hilarious), all went well.
Being new to the school last year I was shocked at just how many students were walking out of the exam so soon after the start, and the disruptive effect it had on the others. Our exam results need to improve, yet too many students were rushing papers just to “escape”. Back in June, at SMT, we decided that we should make students stay until the end – we would have a new regime of expecting students to make full use of the time.
So, last week, 20 minutes into a ‘gained-time’ lesson I was understandably dismayed to see my year 11s arriving in dribs and drabs from their mock exams. When I had a quiet chat with them it was clear that they had been allowed to leave the exam they had been in (not mathematics) when they wanted. What happened to our new regime?
Well, I guess it is a bit like turning a tanker round, only you don’t have access to the bridge! I think the exam invigilators are only too happy to allow the students to leave, and staff tend to do as they have always done – I don’t suspect sabotage, just lack of awareness.
The next day, all of Year 11 had their ‘non-calc’ mathematics mock. I politely but forcibly reminded students that they would not be able to leave until the end of the exam (as it was internal they had no “right” to leave early – not that I informed them of that!). And then, they were off. A number of my weaker C/D students were at the Derby rather than the Grand National. A quiet word in their ear that, with 15 minutes gone out of 1h30, being three quarters of the way through was a bit speedy, appeared to have an effect. Students were calm, they were actually checking answers, and some were going back through and adding extra explanations and workings.
If I am honest, I think the time allowances are generous, and the Foundation lot were getting restless after 1h15. Nonetheless, I stuck to my guns and kept them for the full amount. They were fine. The higher students were on the whole annoyed but resigned to waiting for the extra 15 minutes. Our two most troublesome lads in the higher tier threw their toys out the pram and told me I could f*** off and stormed off.
It is far from the first time a student has suggested such an alternative activity in which I may participate, so I played my card, waited until they had crossed the hall and had hold of the door handle before I very politely reminded them they had left their coats behind. They still have a fair bit to learn!
What have I learnt from the whole process? Well, first of all my school is very slow to change and resents change greatly. We do things because we always have, not because we think they are the best things to do. Secondly, when I feel I have done as much as I can, I just need to keep giving that little bit more. I was at the point where I felt I could do no more with my Year 11s, yet they showed me in those exams that they did care and, for that hour, they had some pride. Thirdly, if students act in way that I consider totally inappropriate, most of the other students will be thinking that too. I’m not sure if I ‘lost-face’ in the storming out incident. When I dismissed the Higher Students, I was careful to thank them all for their efforts and good behaviour and how it was mutually supportive – we all want to do well, and need the chance to do well. According to the jungle drums, the word on the street and in the canteen was that the two lads had really showed their true colours – and most students deplored them for that. The tide appears to be changing!
So, what will the marks from the exam be like? Well, to jump forward in time, I can tell you they are pretty shocking. We still have a very long and bumpy ride ahead. However, although I feel my bus is a little dilapidated and the seats definitely past threadbare, I am fairly confident that most or Year 11 will be stepping aboard. Not yet sure I’ll get a fare out of them though!