Christmas Leavers


Ever since I started teaching I’ve been frustrated with the idea of “Christmas Leavers”.

The school leaving age regulations read as follows: 

Children may leave school once they reach their statutory school leaving date, this is dependent on date of birth. For children born between 1 March and 30 September it is 31 May of their 4th year of secondary school. For children born between 1 October and 28 February it is the last day of the December term of the school session in which they are 16.

It’s this latter group which cause such concern.  It never ceases to amaze me how many of the most challenging children are in this group. I can’t track down the link but I know there is a correlation between low attainment for boys and the age they started primary school education, i.e. the younger they were the lower their attainment in S4 (there is no such correlation for girls). Rather than trying to tackle this by ensuring that boys don’t start school too early we exacerbate the situation by demanding that these (often) disenchanted young people have to stay on at school for another four months.  Ridiculous!

15 thoughts on “Christmas Leavers

  1. “never ceases to amaze me how many of the most challenging children are in this group.”

    Too right! And we spend four months trying to keep them ‘amused’ with college days and one off ‘courses’ in ‘social skills’ etc. A few years back you could join the Army at 15.5 as a Junior soldier where you got a year of adventure training and another of hard work which turned you into a good lad in many cases before you went onto adult training. Indeed, the vast majority of Regimental Sergeant Majors (the most senior and feared NCO in a unit) in the British Army until a few years back were ex Juniors. Either let them all do something like that or let them go and earn a crust. At least they’ll stop annoying staff and disrupting pupils with their frustration.

  2. Couldn’t agree more.

    A few years ago I taught PC Passport. Due to there being no exam it soon became a dumping ground for Christmas leavers from other subjects. I had them for a double period on a friday afternoon….

    The ideas being banded about about making children stay on til 18 terrorfy me. For some children, school is not the answer.


  3. I have never been able to understand parents who send their kids, boys or girls, to school before they have to. “But he/she is ready for school!” is the usual refrain – it’s nonsense. If kids are ‘ready’ at 4.5 to start school, they will be even more ‘ready’ when they are 5.5. Any parent who ever came to me asking for advice on whether or not to allow their child to start school ‘early’ got the same response and an explanation for my view.

    Of course, many of those parents were simply looking for an excuse to get their kids off to school as soon as possible, for whatever reason (career, a rest…?).

    And Doug – you are right that, for many kids, school is not the answer at 16 or 17 or 18 – I might go further and suggest that for many kids at this stage, school might even be the problem!

  4. When they begin school boys are movers, not into colouring in and identifying letters, not into copying out poems from the board…still the focus of many classrooms, due I think to a lack of up to date knowledge of the range of engaging activities that can be used. Boys find themselves in the ‘bottom group’ in these early primary years and unfortunately stay there.

  5. There is of course another serious problem not mentioned here that is associated with the statutory school leaving date. Some have mentioned “disenchanted young people” having to stay on for four months after sitting exams. We also have young people in crisis who are also eligible to leave in the December of their fourth year if the started school at the age of 5.5. These young people essentially can and do leave without ever sitting exams. Maybe young people should have to stay at school for a minimum number of years, rather than being allowed to leave on a certain date.

    I mentioned another thing I have been pondering recently to Don when he visited ELIS yesterday and wondered if anyone had any views on the subject. One of the problems I encountered as a teacher with “Christmas leavers” is the fact that some felt they had sat their exams and didn’t see any point in staying on as they already had their grades. I am aware that some East Lothian Schools have S3 pupils sitting exams. Do these schools find the “Christmas Leaver” issue rearing its head for more pupils but in their fourth year rather than their fifth year of school. Unfortunately it’s not 4 months but 1 year and 4 months for some until they leave?

  6. I think you strike a chord with many people on this one, Don. For me, there’s a simple solution – complete 11 years of full-time education and you are free to leave at the end of your S4 year. I think a lot of difficulties boys have with reading can be traced back to P1 and am absolutely in favour of a less formal curriculum for early years.

    Craig’s point about early presentation at S3 is interesting – I did wonder that if you had a set of formal qualifications at the end of S3 but had to stay on until the end of S4 if it would actually encourage the staying on rate from the point of view that ” you’ve covered over 50% of the course why not finish it?” I certainly think a two year Higher course would suit far more children – less pace, more reinforcement of difficult concepts, more room for staff and pupils to go off at relevant tangents – two term dash becomes five term progress.

  7. I have recently been discussing this very issue with some fellow parents of 4 year old boys labouring over the decision to start them in school this year or to hold off. My advice has always been to wait.

    I have for many years maintained that boys who start school at 4 seem to suffer in Standard Grade. Those that have not yet matured have a lost, sort of ‘left behind’ feel about them in 4th year. While their classmates move on some of these boys lose interest and focus and end up turning into ‘Christmas Leavers’.

    I wonder if any research has been done into this?

  8. Having being born on the 28th of Feb I was never really aware that there was a difference between myself and my classmates. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay on after s4 to attempt five highers. Soon after I returned from the summer holidays circumstances dictated my departure from school. It was only at this point I was informed that I would have to stay on to Christmas.
    The outcome; I simply stopped going to school. No social workers in those days to knock on the door. When the education authority did catch up with me they found I was working full time and studying for my highers at night school at the same time and therefore took no action.
    I have since then never really understood why pupils arent allowed to leave on the actual day of after their sixteenth birthday., but then again i may be missing something.

  9. We have in place a system that does not always appear to support parental wishes to retain there child for an additional year in pre-school ” If a child is born in January or February is entitled to an additional year in Nursery, it should not be seen as automatically the best way forward for the child.” This could be read, “even if you want to retain your child don’t assume that the local authority/school willl support this.” I would argue that if a parent feels strongly that there child should be retained in Nursery then they should be allowed to allow this to happen regardless of the opinion and view of the school, after all they have an entitlement to an additional year. Local Authorities have continues discretion over children with birthdays between Autumn and 31st January if their parentrs wish to defer them. I have 2 boys who fall into both sides of this and this issue is there from day one. My suggestion is that parents should be able to defer if they wish.

  10. Folk who’ve studied the Kindergarten system abroad would argue that 5 years old is too young to start full-time formal education anyway. In my opinion we would be better providing nursery-style education for longer. I think the stumbling block is the difference in hours between nursery and P1, which would have to be sorted out. I can see an outcry from working parents if P1 became a shorter school day.
    On the subject of secondary, I went to school in England and so I can’t understand why Highers are taught in just one year. We all did 2 years for A-level, so there was a bit more time for us to cope with all those adolescent problems as well (aaargh!)

  11. Thanks to all who have commented. I think I’ll make this topic my next article for TESS and will use (anonymously) many of your comments to shape the piece – if that’s OK with you?

  12. Don’t you think that the problem begins as Eilidh Brown begins to indicate, when we happily encourage parents to send children who are barely 3 (and sometimes are not even that) into the pre-school environment?

  13. Perennial problem! My first year of teaching in Edinburgh 20-odd years ago meant I was “entrusted” with 2 different groups of S4 leavers, and the relative freedom to “tailor the curriculum” to their needs (there’s an idea!!) was balanced by the reality that they didnae really care although I’m convinced they were more polite and better humoured than my last class last month..

    We’ve tried college links, extended work placements and a huge variety of vocationally-based courses. While it would be wrong to generalise and say they were all the same, (many students are perfectly reasonable, and some are very needy and I worry about their ability to handle life after school), but some become totally disillusioned with the compulsory education and maybe authority in general. Would this disaffection spread if we LOWERED the leaving age? I mean are they already so anti-authority?

    I’m up for a comparative study to California or New Zealand, or the Caribbean. How do these enlightened countries manage this issue?

  14. I agree with these concerns.
    I suppose there is a problem with the age when young people can enter employment. It would not be sufficient to say that they could enter employment when they had completed four years at school.
    Regarding the suggestion that the youngest pupils might have disadvantages in education, I am sure that is true. In the early years at Primary school, a year difference in age must be very significant for 4 and 5 year old children. No doubt some disadvantages continue to the other stages of development.
    Could this affect boys more than girls. Girls are now well ahead of boys at all stages. Should boys start school a year after girls?? Do we cause some learning problems by trying to get the boys (in particular) to learn things too soon?

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