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Study Leave; Choosing to Make Every Second Count

By Lena Carter


One of the most important things that we do in education is to help children and young people to take control of their lives, to be able to self-regulate and to develop a sense of ‘agency’ or capacity to act independently and make free choices.

Younger children need adults to supervise them and make decisions for them in order to stay safe and protected, but growing into a young adult means taking on increasing personal choice and responsibility.

This can be hugely exciting and liberating but also a little bit scary.

Up until S4, the educational decisions that most of our young people have to take are fairly limited and relate to subject choices and ways of learning within lessons.

Suddenly in S4, however, things change.

Firstly, there is the big decision to be made about whether to stay on in school after turning 16. Most pupils do because school can offer them more of what they need but for those who want or need something different, there is a choice of starting work or studying elsewhere.

But there is also a big decision to be made sooner than that around the period that we have come to call ‘study leave’.

Some students and parents have been asking me about study leave recently and how it works for S4 in our school.

I know that some schools have very strict programmes for study leave and insist that pupils are in if they do not have an exam.

But I see this time as a really fantastic opportunity for our young people to take on some real responsibility in terms of how they manage the time that they have.

This is the message I give to pupils at my school:

As with everything in education, there is no one size fits all. You are diverse and wonderful individuals doing a range of courses and so each one of you needs to use the time in a way that suits you.

In the ‘olden days’ when everyone did exams, it was simple; everyone was off and revising for exams. Now that we fortunately have other means of assessment, things are different.

Some of you will have Unit Assessments to complete and will need to come into school to do this during study leave. If not, you will not get your qualifications.

If you are sitting all or several National 5 exams, you should probably do “old style” study leave and revise at home.

If you are doing all or mostly National 4s and have completed all the Unit Assessments, you might well have arranged a work experience placement.

If not, you should think of study leave as an opportunity to prepare as much as possible for new courses which start at the end of May but also to develop Skills for Learning, Life and Work.

We all know that teachers play a very important part in education but that independent study is an equally important factor. As you go into your final years of school, you need to seize every opportunity to be an independent learner. Study leave is the perfect opportunity for this.

Take every opportunity to learn and expand your mind and experience. Some suggestions:


  • Your English texts for next year
  • The daily papers
  • History books
  • Science papers
  • Classic literature
  • BBC Bitesize information


“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!



  • Films related to the subjects you will be doing next year
  • Documentaries
  • Ted Talks


  • To music you don’t usually listen to (Radio 3)
  • To radio programmes and documentaries (Radio 4)


  • Art galleries
  • Museums


  • What voluntary work experience might you be able to do? Do the gardening for the lady next door?
  • Go to work with your parent or family friend for a day (if they can arrange it officially)

Reflect and/or write:

  • What have you achieved in school so far? What are you going to achieve next?
  • Write a blog. Write a diary. Write a novel.

Make the most of this freedom to learn and develop. After you leave school, the next time you get this type of opportunity may be when you retire.

Make every second count!

Lena is Head of Teaching and Learning in a secondary school in Argyll. You can follow her on Twitter as @lenabellina and read her blog at


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