||About Us | Contact Us | Subscribe|
Childcare and Parenting
Exam StressExam Stress - If you remember the build up to exams being stressful, then you have got an inkling what your children must be going through about now..
As a working mother, are we too busy to notice our children’s exam stress?
Sorry if that sounds a bit like Sex in the City’s Carrie Bradshaw asking yet another interesting but obvious question, but there is a valid point there.
Now that the plans to replace exams with a new framework of specialised and 'open' diplomas has been announced, we can safely assume that the exam system has been recognised as something that has a great deal of room for improvement.
The new proposals would see diplomas awarded at four levels and include a compulsory core that requires all pupils to become literate and numerate and develop personal and interpersonal skills. Study would begin at 14 with pupils working through the levels at their own pace, taking exams when ready. You can read more about this at www.telegraph.co.uk.
While we welcome this open minded approach to what kind of person the education system should be producing, these proposals will take 10 years to implement, so in the meantime, the annual exam debate will continue.
Though most parents are supportive and loving, they can add to the pressure that an already high exam load can give a child. Parents are also now aware that exams mean so much in a society where highly educated people battle it our for a smaller number of professional positions. I can remember when a trade was encouraged because they were needed, but now, if it doesn't’t involve an office, computers and high salaries, you are considered not to have succeeded as well. The gulf between professional and ‘trade’ has widened, perhaps irreparably.
Every year, children are paraded in the media for their excellent grades in exams and every year there is a tragic story of a child who has found it all too much and taken their life rather than face life with low grades. Is it any surprise they feel pressured when the average child in the UK is being asked to take an average of 70 tests from the age of 4 – 18? And then, to cap it all, the media condemn the high grades achieved as being worthless because of the large numbers passed
As Carrie might say again, are we damaging our children’s views of themselves as people?
Certainly in the UK, far more emphasis is placed on achieving good exam grades than becoming a rounded, responsible and confident person. While an education is, of course, important, if we want our children to enjoy it and look forward to the learning process that dominates their young lives, then we need to reassess the way we look at measuring that education.
Continual assessment is one option that seems to be working on some schools. It is basically exactly what is says, continual assessment of coursework that goes towards the end of year grade. Where this is used more, pupils seem to respond well for the most part, though some have said they feel it is more pressure more often to meet deadlines.
It is becoming clearer that academia is not necessarily the only means to an end and parents and teachers (especially careers advisors who seem to be the most limited of all) need to think about providing a solid education but also producing a person who is confident enough to follow their own thoughts.
More and more there is a backlash from young people who have seen through the corporate dream – the cars, the money, the stress – perhaps because their parents are realising there is more to life and even politicians are deciding they want to ‘spend more time with their family’. Children are thinking far more widely about what it is they might want to do. It seems being a pop star or actor is becoming a legitimate career choice; garden designers and interior designers are far more readily used by everyone now and there is a greater demand for them in our disposable economy. In short, the career market is very different to 20 or even just 10 years ago.
Perhaps pastoral care in schools should be made more of an issue than it is; the obvious hurdle being that teachers are already underpaid with a demanding schedule; asking them to have an understanding conversation with every pupil about quality of life and their future just be the final straw.
The pressure of achieving through education starts at a young age, and every parent is guilty of adding some of that pressure, knowingly or not. Some parents are guilty of seeing their child’s academic success as a reflection of their parenting skills, or their ability to pay for private tutors, with less thought about how this pressure will affect their child as he or she grows up. How many academically ‘failed’ children have gone on to become extremely successful in their own right? Robbie Williams hasn’t done so badly and he doesn’t have an exam to his name; David Beckham isn’t the brightest bulb on the tree but he seems to have done OK.
Taking the time to look at a child’s personality and strengths can boost their confidence and make them see that even if they try their very best and it doesn’t quite make them an A grade student, that doesn’t make them any less of a person. Parents are often advised to take a long term view of their child’s future, not the short term goal of exam success.
Simply by reinforcing the importance of exams, we are adding to the pressure many children feel from school already. As parents, we want the best for our children. As a working parent, you understand how difficult life can be when you’re supporting a family, let alone in the good old days when your only responsibility was yourself.
Comparing your child to someone else’s is also not going to help. While all students study the same curriculum, every child has a different way of approaching exams. If you do use other children as a benchmark, you may end up instilling feelings of inadequacy that will be hard to shift for the rest of their lives. No matter who you are, someone somewhere will always be able to something better than you and that is just a fact of life.
That said, if your child says they want to do well and has a bit of friendly rivalry going on with his or her peer group, then just make sure it stays friendly. A bit of competition can be a great spur to learning and doing well, as long as it doesn’t become a superiority complex!
When it comes to the big ones, the GCSE’s and A levels that can make or break a university place, assuming that is what they want, then it is difficult not to be anxious for your children. Teenagers by their nature don’t have a concept of what exams will do for them in terms of ‘getting on’. The ones who do have a clear understanding of this are in the minority. The majority have not had a job of any kind before they take exams, have no experience of the work structure and certainly don’t worry too much that having low grade or no exams will possibly hinder them; they’re young, they have options. So to have parents and teachers try to tell them all this and basically scare them into working harder doesn’t really help.