The Limbo of the Young School Leavers

We’ve written here about school starting dates, and there’s lots more on that to come. But we received an interesting email about a problem caused by the same issue that comes at the other end of school.

“My work in education (now retired) brought me into conflict with the Education department and schools regarding a child’s leaving date. There is only one start date but two leaving dates. Any child born after the 1st October to the end of February is obliged to remain at school until the ‘winter leaving date’, about the 21st December.

This is a serious discrimination against some youngsters. This is fine for most academically minded students who will be staying on for 5th and maybe 6th year but for others, who see their pals leave on 31st May, this is a six month sentence.

Most schools do not want these youngsters and they are often viewed as a nuisance. Some are chased up for non-attendance (this is where I came in) while others are told not to come back. I have seen me getting a youngster back to school to be told on the same day (because of their behaviour) not to darken the school door again.  Of course this was never an official exclusion and neither the parent nor child would ever complain.

Some schools would have an imaginary class where the Xmas leavers would be marked ‘in attendance’ but in fact never attended because there was no class for them. This looked impressive on the school’s truancy rates.

Sadly, while the youngsters were happy not to have to go to school they were also not permitted to work and were, therefore, left in limbo land, kicking their heels and often causing trouble in their local community.”

He went on to say:

“I had to deal with children and parents who were badly affected by this ridiculous ruling and who were under threat of prosecution. On the other hand there was a lot of bending the rules by those in authority. There are strict rules about work experience and exclusions which are flagrantly disregarded both then and probably now. It should be said, however, that some schools dealt with Xmas leavers with compassion and understanding and the local college and others were starting to come on board and offer youngsters greater choice.

At the end of the day it is still discrimination. If Joe’s birthday is on 30 September he can leave school on 31 May. Whereas Jim born on 1st October is legally required to stay at school until 21st December (nearly seven months of a difference). There is a simple solution.

There is only one start date so why not have one leaving date?”

One of the two parents who write this blog is a secondary school teacher, and has had pupils in her class in exactly this position. They knew they were going to leave and weren’t going to be sitting the exam but there they were, in a Higher class, just marking time, and couldn’t be persuaded to try for the exam. This is bad for them, bad for their fellow pupils, bad for the teacher and bad for the school. This is one of those subjects in which you could do something really useful with early school leavers – they could be helped with some meaningful life skills. But put them in that Higher class and all a teacher can think about is getting them to sit still and keep quiet.

I said to our emailer that it amazed me that this was one of those problems in Scottish education that no-one has really tried to fix, to which he replied:

“At least 10 years ago there was a Government committee examining aspects of education and I wrote to them highlighting my concerns in detail. The Chair of the committee complained to my council and I got my knuckles rapped because this was not included in my council’s submissions and I should not have written on official paper. Needless to say there was no mention of this issue on the committee’s recommendations.”

Creating a new curriculum based on a new philosophy is hard. Developing the teachers to teach it is hard. Designing exams to measure pupil achievement against it is hard. Picking a date on which pupils can leave school, or giving them something constructive to do before they leave? That’s easy.

This is an issue that affects every secondary school in the country, every year. At some point could someone in power please just fix it?


2 thoughts on “The Limbo of the Young School Leavers

  1. Debbie

    I was a ‘victim’ of this ruling, however, my school was awesome in this respect! I wanted to leave to become an Early Years Worker. They arranged with the local authority that instead of me attending school until Christmas, I could do work experience in a local nursery. This meant I was ‘head and shoulders’ above the other applicants for my training course, which started in the January!

    However, I think this ruling (and the school starting age issue) need serious overall. I also wanted to add that I think what you are doing is great – more parents need to be aware of their rights – especially when a lot of education workers aren’t!!


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