I am seriously not enjoying myself. I’ve had sleepless nights for at least 2 months and feel stressed. I’m finding the experience of having my children sitting exams is far worse than doing them myself. I know that’s ridiculous, it should be their problem not mine. I barely stressed when I had exams myself and was a very conscientious student who really cracked the technique. To be honest I think the difficulty is knowing I can’t control what happens this time round. I’m truly not a hovering, helicopter parent and have always encouraged my kids to be independent, take responsibility for their learning and make their own mistakes. However, it is so hard to just stand back.
I asked one when I can expect to see some sense of urgency. Surely a bit of an adrenalin rush is good to focus the mind. The response was “You should be so grateful that I’m chilled and not suffering from anxiety or mental health issues.”
An extremely valid and fair point that I actually can’t argue with.
The irony is that over the last few months because exam season is upon us I have delivered many talks to parents in corporates on how to support children through exams, revision technique, managing stress etc. I chose to even call my own business ‘Educating Matters’. However now that my kids have reached this stage, I’m asking myself how much does traditional education really matter? I’m not telling them but we all know that grades are only really relevant in the short term. They don’t define you. They are a stepping stone to get into university (if you are going down that path) and help you to secure your first job but after that no one really cares. When was the last time someone asked you what grades you got? Do your own parents even remember what grades you got?
I have met many academic, straight A* graduates who still struggle to find a job or work out what they want to do with their life. Real ‘success’ in life is so much more than securing good grades in school. If the world has moved on at such a fast pace since we were children and technology is so advanced, why is it that the school system hasn’t really evolved? A-levels might require some higher order thinking, forming opinions and analysis but GCSEs are essentially just an exercise in memory retention. What’s the point, for example of these newly revised GCSES that make kids learn maths formulas off by heart? Why not just give them the formula in the exam? Surely the maths part is about testing whether they can actually apply it?
Some time ago IBM conducted the largest study of over 1500 corporate heads across 60 nations and found that creativity is the most important leadership quality for success in business. Yet all this focus on testing feels like the education system is crushing creativity and any encouragement to think outside the box.
I just went to parents evening for one of my younger children and she received glowing reports about her positive energy, leadership and communication skills, being proactive, conscientious, creative and sociable. One teacher remarked that her qualities are something money can’t buy and no one can teach. Truthfully that gave me so much more joy than if they’d reported she was in top sets for every subject. I know that these are the characteristics that will enable her to do anything she sets hers her mind to. I genuinely believe that solid EQ will determine the quality of a person’s life in a much more fundamental way than IQ.
Parenting has become a bit of a competitive sport and I wish I could step out of this pressure cooker and not care so much. It’s really crazy that even students in top private schools are having loads of tutoring – essentially as a security blanket to guarantee outstanding grades. Yet are they independent learners or heavily reliant on being spoon fed? What happens when they get to university and then have to study on their own?
Far more important than the content children learn at school is the non-cognitive skills that develop and significantly contribute to their performance. Things like grit, self-belief, resilience, growth mindset and work ethic. These are the life skills that in my view are the most beneficial thing about exams. Developing discipline, learning how to plan, prioritise and cope with stress and pressure. The attributes they need to succeed in life.
Studying is as much about mastering and understanding yourself as it is about mastering the subject. That’s the true benefit of watching our kids go through this torturous period.
I simply can’t wait until mid -June. I think I’m more excited about it all being over than my kids are. Maybe then I can go back to sleeping peacefully right through the night.