It seems like only yesterday that Teenager No.1 was taking his GCSE's, yet as our household braces itself again for the next hurdle of AS exams, one headline in particular grabbed my attention yesterday. Apparently, according to new research released by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), it is the parents who are responsible for the reported rise in stress experienced by pupils prior to their exams. A total 56% of heads polled in the survey said that pressure from home to get high grades was the biggest contributory cause of stress, resulting in 97% of head teachers inviting parents in to special advice classes on how to support their children.
Both my teenagers' schools offer superb pastoral care with regular health and well-being lessons, including best practice seminars on preparing for exams, supported with access to confidential counselling if needs be. In addition, there is always a parent briefing evening at this time of year to give us best advice on what to do to support our children through the pressure cooker exam period. I always go to these evenings if not for any other reason than to demonstrate my support for the school. Also, I want to ensure that the messages I repeat at home are consistent with theirs.
All parents want their children to succeed and even more so nowadays, as we are all too aware how difficult it is to stand out from the crowd and secure those top spots at schools and universities. My parents were not fortunate enough to go to university, not because of a lack of ability but because their parents could not afford to send them. My father's mother was a war widow so his priority on leaving school was to earn money to help support her.
When I was a child, I was frequently reminded how important it was that I passed my exams to get the golden ticket to go on to university and in turn guarantee my future success in life. My parents wanted me to benefit from the opportunities they didn't have. Today, we are all discouraged from placing this kind of emphasis upon succeeding on our children. We can think it but whatever we do, we mustn't say it out loud and particularly not before an exam!
I wasn't surprised by the survey's findings. It's a competitive world and as parents we fear for our children and from that fear naturally comes anxiety. It is good that the schools recognise it and are putting measures in place to help us support our children. Even if some of us think we know best, it is well intentioned after all, to help us help our children.
Whilst I want my children to do well, I want them to want to do well for themselves and I have found with both of them since their entry into Secondary school in particular, that the way they are perceived within their peer group is their biggest incentive for working hard and doing well. They don't need me or Mr MoT to apply the pressure, silent or otherwise, they thrive on the competition among their friends to do well. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. It demonstrates a "desire" to succeed and I am yet to meet anyone whose ambition is to fail, but if they do, it won't be the end of the world. There is a solution to everything.