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Hello from the other side: on being a parent of a Year 11 pupil pre-exams

I thought I would write a quick, somewhat self indulgent blog post to say, firstly, oh my...where has that time gone?!  However, cliches and mournful, mum reflection aside, I thought I would just note down for posterity a little about how it feels to sit on the other side of the fence from my usual teacher position.


My eldest child is in Year 11 and is about two weeks away from his first formal GCSE exam: Spanish speaking.  Before the May half term he will also sit others in biology, English literature,  geography, physics, maths and more Spanish.  In four school weeks it will all be over.  He will have sat a total of twenty three exams.  

At this point I am feeling the stress rising. Not in my son - I am sure he is feeling it to a healthy degree but as teenagers go, touch wood, we are very lucky and he is relatively easy going and low maintenance. Nevertheless, I can feel the end approaching and something about that makes me feel uneasy and unsettled.  On the one hand it is exciting and I am eagerly anticipating seeing how he does and hoping that all the opportunities he wants will be open to him in the future.  The exams themselves don't worry me.  Perhaps it may be controversial to some, but I am not against the number of exams they have to sit or the fact they are terminal exams.  I am not a teacher who laments the days of coursework, nor did I sign the heartfelt petition that did the rounds a couple of years ago calling for English Literature exams to be open book.  I like them the way they are now.  But it is the sense of rising action and the climax of it all that is so unnerving.

This I think goes back to that other cliche, yet so real, mum guilt; it is the guilt that every mum feels from the day their child is born, if not long before.  Did I push him enough?  Did I push him too much? (Treading that treacherous line to motivate but to avoid adding pressure and impacting on mental health is a fine balance.) Comparison - the root of all paranoia - is something as a teacher I am often guilty of.  Is he working as hard as my pupils?  Am I spending more time focusing on them and making sure they keep up the motivation than I am on my own children's education? (A teacher/parent worry of old.) Did we send him to the right school?  Should we have ever had a tutor? (We never had one, but I know many who did.) All of these thoughts and more run through my head daily and with increasing regularity as the exam period fast approaches but at this point I know that all we can do now is support him and help him to keep focused.

Over the Easter holidays he has attended a number of revision sessions at school and many for a while before that on an evening.  This is something that has conflicted me greatly.  I do not believe in revision sessions for a number of reasons.  I think they make pupils reliant and do little to encourage them to study, rather than revise, all the way through the course.   As educators we should be cultivating pupils who study overtime; if we let them expect that revision sessions will available at the end then we undermine this endeavour.  However, this really takes a whole school commitment and a curriculum and pedagogy that plans for memory retention, providing pupils with the necessary methods to help them organise their study effectively.  (Dawn Cox writes about this for the Learning Scientists here.)   All of the revision sessions my son has attended means that most of his teachers have also had to give up their own hard earned and well deserved family and rest time too.  (We even have an invite to a Saturday revision session before one of the exams and, although he will go, I know that if he doesn't know it by then then last minute cramming is not the answer!) However, as I said I have worried about the choice of school we made over the years but living in a rural area the choices are limited.  The school he attends was placed in Special Measures a couple of years ago and, although it is much improved, I am acutely aware that there is lost ground to be made up by his cohort and as such if revision sessions are made available, I don't want him to miss out and he is happy to go.  Perhaps we should have pushed him harder to study overtime, but life, family, friendships and time all get in the way and here we are.  As I said - conflicted.

Nevertheless on we go and this time will no doubt fly by too.  The outcome feels so intangible at the moment; all the reports and countless mocks do little to provide a consistent and definite idea of what the end result will be.  As a teacher I know the improbability of that (Grainne Hallahan explains this here) and as a mum I know I will over think it anyway.  Whatever happens I will continue to be proud of the young adult he is becoming and whatever happens I know it will all turn out well in the end.   Inevitably the next stage of A Levels will begin and this will all pale into significance just in time for the next set of exams and then to do it all over again with his brother.  But for now ...  just don't ask me to be calm on results day! 

To any other parent, teacher or otherwise, whose child is of exam age - good luck to you and yours.

Twitter. @MissJoT


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