Parents – What Do They Need to Know?

There are many differing opinions on what kind of parental involvement makes most sense during students’ exam courses, and inevitably some of it depends on what kind of people the particular parents and students are. This page is based on an article first published by Exam Aid researcher Bruce Harris in the Independent newspaper. It looks at the area of what parents need to know, with particular reference to Year 11 GCSE courses.

Parents’ urge to help their children through what is likely to be an anxious and crucial period of schooling is inevitably strong. But is there actually a constructive role for parents to play? Recent research says there definitely is. I interviewed 30 girls and 30 boys in the important Year 11 February to May period, asking them about revision, coursework, homework, Year 10 and 11 and any ‘non-academic’ problems interfering with their chances. The results supported what had been suggested by questionnaire information from over 700 students in six schools. So what are the points which parents might usefully bear in mind?

For many students, Year 10 is disastrous. Time and again, people in Year 11 said that they regretted not doing enough in Year 10. The consequences ranged from huge coursework backlogs to lack of material to use for revision. Many admitted that they had not worked in Year 10 in spite of persistent warnings from teachers and there were suggestions that Year 10 is regarded by the student body generally as a time for taking it easy. Tough love may be called for here.

Study and revision guides don’t necessarily solve the main problems. Most of them are mainly or entirely subject-based, as is more of the revision covered in school. What many students find really difficult is organising the work for sometimes as many as nine or ten subjects. Time management and prioritising work present huge headaches. Subject teachers often demand that their work should come first, and some subjects contain a larger body of work than others. Some subjects assess on a mixture of coursework and examinations; others organise on a modular basis, with tests at the end of each term. For the student, the picture can be confusing, but planning does bring rewards; thirteen of the most successful fifteen of my interviewees worked to a definite revision programme, and started at least by the middle of March.

Study and revision guides – a real help?

Parents are likely to have the impression that GSCE work is very heavy at some times and very light at others. This, rightly or wrongly, tends to be the nature of the beast. Most of the preparation exams are placed at the beginning of the second term of Year 11 and the coursework and revision are likely to clash. They overlap again when coursework deadlines correspond with times when revision programmes should be underway, usually around Easter. The research also suggests that subject departments in schools do not talk to each other as much as they should, and worksetting can lurch from heavy to light as a matter of course. It is therefore extremely important that students use the light periods constructively; people who get behind can find it progressively more difficulty to catch up, and some can be lost and struggling by Year 11.

GSCE – some work periods are heavier than others

Stereotypical as it seems, boys are likely to be more confident of success and less prepared to work long hours to achieve it. Girls tend to be more questioning about the career value of the subjects they do and they do seem to be more prone to exam nerves. While fewer boys attempt suicide, a higher proportion of them do actually succeed in killing themselves.

The stereotypes – right or wrong?

Parents must beware of becoming the problem rather than the solution. Thirteen of the least successful interviewees had problems to deal with which were nothing to do with their academic work, and the great majority of these were to do with families. Some crises, like deaths or illness were unavoidable, but in almost all cases, students had little access to counseling help. The figures also showed that students’ expectations are lower than their parents, and many do not feel able to achieve what their parents are expecting of them.
Like most parental tasks, the GCSE years involve some complicated questions and few clear solutions. I should be emphasised that most students find their way through without major traumas, and it doesn’t do to overstress the negative. But it helps to be aware of what might happen – just in case it does.

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