Leonid Pasternak, The Night before the Examination, 1895
How do you feel about May, generally? Bit dull, weather unpredictable? Hard to know if you should wear a vest or not? Not for schools. Once you’ve got through April with a balanced budget and you no longer need to remember when Easter’s happening you’re faced with the mother of all months in the school year. Why May?
Exams, mainly. The years of preparation skid to a halt and the hall is full of exam desks and fearsomely specific, slightly surreal exhortations. ‘Do not be in possession of a mobile phone anywhere near this notice’. ‘Do not conceal pencils in a bag you can’t see through’. ‘Have you got your own angle measurer?’ You potter down to assembly to find an empty room with 100 neatly spaced folding tables woodenly indifferent to your uplifting story. You retreat feeling that the autopilot is a bit foolish and find your way impeded by 200 irritable and panicking teenagers waiting to go into the Sports Hall. You shush them helpfully, the cacophony stops at the door and within minutes all is silent as the tomb, and not a lot warmer (to keep them alert, and because it’s May).
The door opens and it’s another inspector, this time from the exam boards. He checks the rooms, the distance between the tables, the notices, the children who qualify for help, the safe, the locks, the rooms and for all I know the average height, weight and age of the invigilators. Lists are checked, boxes ticked, verdicts given. All’s well. They always come early, in May.
So some of our number are in exams, some on study leave, some not being given study leave because they can’t be trusted not to spend it staring into space, some in revision classes and most still chugging through week 31 or so of the year. How much more information can be stuffed into each ear? Not much, it’s already MAY.
If that was it, we’d just about cope. Two year groups will soon go and we’ll have time to reflect and plan. Except we can’t: the transfer window is about to close, because it’s May.
Teachers have to resign by set dates in the school year. If you’re intending to change school in September you need to resign by 31st May, but that’s usually in half term, so the real resignation date is nearer the middle. That means that if a school has a vacancy now, and wants to fill it with a serving teacher, the clock’s ticking, my friend. The advert goes in the TES, you cut the usual two weeks down to 10 days for applications, you plan the interview day, gather a panel, shortlist, re-shortlist because one of them’s got a job somewhere else, speed up everything so you don’t lose any more, interview, check references, appoint and then tell the timetabler what he’s got to work with for September. Being a mathematician he’s pretty phlegmatic and much too kind to mutter: ‘Couldn’t you have got your act together sooner? Didn’t you realise it was May’.
There is a land of lost content on the other side of half term as we enter the long final half term of the year. That’s when we get a good long stretch of teaching, meet our new little ones, start year 12 into year 13 with visits to university open days, reflect and plan. The pace doesn’t slow down, but the exam die is well and truly cast. We’ll get to the middle of July, take a deep breath until the results in August and then start it all again. In school there’s no time at all from May to September.