Words by: Mrs Kinetta

Students in a classroomStudy leave. Two words which provoke different reactions, depending on who you are and what stage of life you're at.

For Year 11, it's often something they've dreamed of for months. All the frustration and irritability which runs through the average 16-year-old like letters through a stick of rock is reaching its peak right now. It often seems as if students regress, both emotionally and intellectually, in the last months of their time in school.

Some of my students did better in their mocks in January than they are doing in the same kind of papers now, and that is a quite normal course of events. They are fed up of doing the same topics and their efforts are often pretty half-hearted.

If the staff have got the timing right, then the time for learning new material passed a good few weeks ago, and now it's just a case of repeating the same old things until they can more or less do them on autopilot. And that's boring.

On top of that, many of them, the conscientious ones, are burnt out. They have been pushed and pushed and pushed, and now they are in need of a break.

Once study leave kicks in, they will have time to draw breath, sleep in, gather their thoughts together and tackle things in their own way, and that rest makes all the difference.

As teachers, we tend to think we are letting them down if we don't fill every moment of the working week with revision, adding extra homework often just because we are afraid of not being seen to do our job properly, but there comes a time when it's counter-productive.

It's taken me years to develop the confidence to know when to let go and stop flogging that dead horse. It's no wonder the students can't wait to leave.

Cutting strings

There's another side to study leave, though. It's getting very close to the moment when the Upper Sixth have to cut the apron strings and leave school for good. For most of them, their emotional response to the event is unexpected.

At the age of 18, it's pretty obvious that it's time for them to join the adult world, and most of them have been ready to do that for a long time. When the crunch comes, however, it's not always how they dreamed it would be.

The school where I teach is for ages four to 18. For many of the students, that's meant 14 years of their lives in the same place. Letting go of that home from home can be really hard. Students leaving school

Even for those who have been there for only seven years, there's an anxiety-provoking sense of flying the nest. The stabiliser wheels have to come off the bike if they are going to make it into the scary world outside on their own, but suddenly realising they will have to do it without teachers telling them what to do is intimidating as well as exhilarating.

For some, it is a real wrench to let go, and that is not quite how they imagined their grown up, mature and adult selves reacting when they looked ahead to that magical moment of freedom.

A different perspective

Of course, study leave means something very different for staff. Study leave for me means my timetable is halved and I, too, have time to draw breath. It's the time of year when, in theory, things should be easier; lessons can be planned a bit more imaginatively; a little reflection can be made on how things have gone and how things could be better next year. In practice, of course, that is not how it is.

Quite apart from the return of the students who can't quite tear themselves away from the safety of the school, who come back with a fistful of practice papers for you to mark right up to the day before the exam, it's the time of year when meetings, projects and endless rewrites of the curriculum expand to fit the time available, plus half an hour.

During the year, anything that can be delayed tends to get shoved into this period, because 'we'll all have much more time then', with the result that we all have even less time than at any other time of year.

On top of that, there is exam invigilation eating up your free time with enforced idleness, but revealing the rules of the invigilators' favourite game, Stand Next To The Ugly Kid, will have to wait for another day and another blog.

For staff, study leave is a mixed blessing in many ways, and most teachers have moments of longing to be back in the classroom forcing knowledge into the unwilling of Year 11 instead of listening to yet another pointless exercise in reinventing the academic wheel.

Study leave is a time of mixed emotions for almost everyone. Relief and sadness; excitement and anxiety; happiness at the thrill of the future and sadness at the loss of old, familiar faces.

Like all phases, this one passes, and without it we would all be stuck in Groundhog Day forever more. But if it's happening to you this year don't expect it to pass unremarked, because life can sometimes throw a few curved balls when you least expect it. Take a few tissues with you on your last day. No one need know, and it's always best to be prepared.

Mrs Kinetta is a secondary school English teacher who writes for The Student Room under a pseudonym.