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by | Dec 20, 2021

Supporting a child through GCSEs and A Levels: A parent’s perspective

In 2019 our son took his GCSEs – sitting actual exams. Two years later it was his A levels, without exams. In the summer of 2022 our daughter is taking her GCSEs (which are expected to be exams for the first time since 2019). So, from a parent’s perspective, what has that been like? Clearly every child, and every parent and carer will have different experiences. This blog attempts to encapsulate mine.

I vividly recall our son taking his GCSEs in the summer of 2019. This generation are sitting more exams, occupying more hours, than ever before. It was a daunting prospect for him – and for us as parents. Vast amounts to revise, practise and memorise. And whilst his at home revision began in the February, the in-school exam preparation started much earlier. So, whilst he was very familiar with the task and its scale, that didn’t mean that sitting down and revising (and before that planning the revision) was any easier, or any more appealing. Putting off creating the plan, and then putting off actually starting revising, was the first big challenge.

However, he did get into the routine of revising each night – not necessarily for long, but doing it regularly, and with a plan to cover everything that needed to be condensed and memorised. Ensuring he had the space (in every sense) to revise; managing the inevitable tensions in the house as the exams approached; providing metaphorical stick and carrot; in fact planning our lives around it all, was all part of that 5 months. I probably felt more anxious than he did – and trying not to convey that was key. With hindsight I shouldn’t have worried as much – the school provides a huge amount of guidance, structure and support around revision.

Once the weeks of exams were over, little did he know, they would be the last formal exams he would take at school. Nine months later, his A level studies came to an abrupt halt at the end of March 2020. That period of learning (or not) is well documented, so skipping to the final few months, how could he choose universities to apply for when he couldn’t visit them? Were the exams on or off? What evidence would the school want for TAGs? How seriously would he take the additional in-school testing? And how, in the end, would he be able to say farewell to his school and friends that he’d had for so many years? Our role, as parents, again was to listen, support, motivate, cajole, and feed.

But now he is at university and for us as parents it begins again. One term into Year 11, and our daughter is currently taking mocks. Motivating her to do revision has been hard – she struggles to see the point. She’s missed so much time in school over the past 22 months; she’s missed so much normal routine. Maybe she might have felt this way had the pandemic not happened, but it certainly hasn’t helped. So, we have the same fundamental parental role again: to support her, keep her safe, healthy and motivated. We’re also ensuring she has fun, and reassuring her that everything will be ok. Drawing from what we learnt with her brother, and making sure she concentrates on herself rather than on any comparisons, will hopefully stand her and us in good stead for the coming months.