So this is Christmas

Another term nearly over.

The school year is full of fixed annual rituals. For us, the last week of the autumn term brings the  girls’ highlight of the year, the so-called Karaoke, which in fact is a dance competition, for which all the forms prepare intensely, care about to the exclusion of almost all else and relish triumphs from years gone by. This is a ridiculously noisy and frantic event, endured with an indulgent tolerance or gritted teeth by frazzled staff. To me it is a good example of why a focus on control and orderliness at all times in school can miss the point. They have a wonderful time at the Karaoke and it brings forms together – and though they are noisy and apparently undisciplined, they do understand when to stop. Something more sedate really wouldn’t achieve the same.

We also have our annual Carol Service at a local church. Of course we do not force people to come if they have a religious objection, but in practice, despite the school being very multicultural, very few exercise that right. I’m an unapologetic atheist but I still love the Carol Service – the walk up there, the lovely old church, the readings from the King James Bible, the old carols (though I wish they’d pitch it a bit lower! I find myself fading out part way through). It’s a really good way to finish the term.

Individual classes may have their own rituals too. A lovely group I taught for five years (years 7 to 11) had a favourite kind-of mathematical game that we always played at the end of term (that involved noise and apparent anarchy too…spotting a pattern?). Some of them have requested that we have a class reunion (as they are now in the sixth form and so no longer together) and play it in a lunchtime next week!

Another feature of this time of year is the Oxford and Cambridge interviews. Whatever we say to counter this (and believe me, we do – we have way too much sense to believe an Oxbridge place is the be-all and end-all, or right for everyone), they have a ridiculous amount emotionally invested in this. A lot of them find it very hard to deal with the fact that the interviewers will be asking them things way outside their comfort zone where they have to figure it out rather than know it. For a number, not getting the place will be their first real experience of academic “failure”, and it can hit them hard; for all we may point out the excellence of their other choices, it is the one missed that dominates their feelings. And I hate to say it, but some parents really don’t help – you can understand a child being stressed if their parents regard going to somewhere that is third nationally for their subject as some sort of “failure”.

I know some of my colleagues will feel our pupils should be using the holidays to get some work done. With the sole exception of kids who feel they are floundering because they’ve got seriously behind – I don’t, I’m afraid. It’s a long and tiring term – they need the break, and to do the normal festive things of eating, drinking, relaxing, watching old films, and who knows, maybe talking to their nearest and dearest.

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