Well done son!

Thursday 25 August 2022

This Thursday, the gentle giant, affectionately know as Smallboy, collects his GCSE results … and they are cracking!

The entire squad bundles down to school for support, crammed into my Eldest’s 3-door car, (alas, Windsor is recovering from an encounter with a bollard in Bolton … a story for another day) because, that is what we do and because we all get it. Get the pressure of high expectation from: school, friends, family. Everyone expecting you to have done well, to have ‘sailed through‘ to have ‘smashed it’. It is a lot to bear at the age of 16 and the car journey is pretty quiet.

Our phone clocks move to 09:00. The school doors open. Off he goes and, after 3 years of blessed GCSE respite, it is ‘welcome back’ to that tortuous wait in the car for me! Smallboy later tells me that,

I kind of knew it had gone well mum because as I went through the doors one of the teachers told me to ‘wait behind at the end for a photograph’

But there is none of this reassurance for those left outside. Stomach churning, I waive aside my daughters’ suggestions of ‘music‘ or ‘playing a game‘. I try some experimental ‘positive chanting’ but soon fall back upon the familiar and am completing my fourth decade of the rosary when we see him ambling across the carpark, giving us a shy thumbs up and hopping back into the front seat.

It is simply a super set of grades! He gives a modest shrug, his face breaks into a smile, I ruffle his curly locks and we head off for a Maccies breakfast to celebrate.

And so, as a parent, my encounter with GCSE examinations, revision and results days comes to an end. Three very different experiences, not so much with the results days but with the examination period itself. This final one, without doubt, the most laid back and … let me get down with the kids and say, ‘chilled’ ever. Few dramas and a very relaxed (which I found alarming on occasion) approach to revision. Typically, I’d arrive home and open with,

Have you started revision yet? You’ve got Chemistry tomorrow

To which my son would usually reply along the lines of,

Don’t stress mother, it’s only 7pm… plenty of time!

I did put my foot down, on several occasions, about mid-week socialising but he still went out most weekends. I also supported the schools insistence on attendance and did not consent to my son’s pleas to ‘phone and ask for study leave’.

Did any of it make a jot of difference? I guess we shall never know. But, on supporting school policy, I was never going to budge. I am unspeakably grateful to our local high school for many things and this includes the knowledge, the love of learning and the encouragement to aim high that they have instilled in all three of my offspring. I cannot thank them enough for this because, as a single parent, life is a tough old trek and self-doubt always only a thought away. Their resolute input has, without question shielded my trio from my lone-mum fears of ‘daring to hope but then falling’ and contributed to them becoming just lovely young people, with amazing friends and bright futures. So rather than questioning any edicts over the years I have been happy to trust and … that has certainly paid off.

So let’s finish this post where we started with the one and only Small boy. Enrolled at sixth-form and starting an exciting new chapter. Well done son, you enjoy this moment …

Exam Results 2021 …let’s make it about the pupils

Monday 9 August 2021

It’s the eve of A level Results day in England, with GCSEs following, hot on their heels. Always a tense time for so many pupils and parents but: throw in 18 months of  covid-chaos in our educational establishments; toss in the word ‘ teacher assessed grades’ and stir it all up with accusations of ‘grade inflation’ and speculation of a landslide of appeals and our scandal-seeking national media look set for a bumper week of headlines.

Is it unfair to suggest that the press and politicians and ‘joe-public know-alls’ sometimes forget that pupils lie at the heart of this…

Our house is on edge, anxiously awaiting A level results for Prom-dress daughter. Like many pupils in her position, this set of grades represent hard work and talent but even more importantly a whole ton of resilience and grit. Yes, it is remarkable that so many of these pupils kept going. Kept going through: home-learning, blended learning, lockdown, unlocking, mass testing, endless isolation orders  and … to cap it all an anxious assessment marathon, hastily cobbled together at the eleventh hour by an incompetent Department of Education. Let’s spare them headlines that make ill-informed shots at the validity of their grades; they deserve every success and every bit of praise their schools and families can lavish upon them. For those who don’t receive exactly the scores they hoped for … I think we know that they have learned how to pick themselves up, learned how to adapt…. I think they need to be reassured that they  will be okay.

For whilst my daughter and others collecting results are typical of most examination age pupils, there is another group whose story is even less likely to be told.  As we dispatched out Teacher Assessed Grades in June there were a small number of young people receiving no grades at all. And we are not alone. In July 2021, the TES in their article ‘Most teachers had GCSE evidence gaps‘ found that over 70% of teachers had pupils for whom they could not evidence a grade.

The article explores many reasons for this saddest of situations; mental health, bereavement, school refusal, the causes are numerous. There is an even more serious issue too, some of our pupils are actually lost. Lost to education and … missing. Quoted in a Times article, Anne Longfield, former children’s commissioner reported that,

” …the state had lost track of tens of thousands of pupils who had gone “off grid” during the pandemic…” 

Her fears for these vulnerable young people centre upon the threats from criminal gangs and the dark cloud of county lines that casts an ever present shadow over our school communities.

Is there a place for this cohort of pupils on results day? I’d like to think that there was … because I really believe in educational care. I’d like to say ‘come back to us‘ even if you haven’t gained a single grade. We have time for you too today. We’ll find you a path. We’ll help you take that first step. We are … still here. Because 18 months of a global pandemic has re-emphasised one thing so clearly to those of us privileged to work in our high schools and colleges, pupils are not just a set of exam statistics, and a list of grades, they are complete and unique young people. And they flourish with our amazing knowledge but also our care and encouragement that helps each one to see how much they matter and what the best version of themselves might be.

So please…  let’s make this week’s results days about the pupils… about all the pupils….

A Level Results Day

Thursday 13 August 2020

It is A level results day. I haven’t slept. I am up at six. Pacing the house. Hoovering for no reason. Depositing half-drunk cups of coffee in several rooms. By the time my eldest disappears to her room, to view the 8 am grades, I am on the edge of bursting into tears.  Everything goes very, very quiet …until,

Mum, can you come here please?”

And then I do cry. My girl has the grades she needs. After four years of unbelievable slog, barriers and hurdles one of my children is off to Medical School. It is so fantastic. It is almost impossible to take in.

2020 will be marked in educational annals as the Covid exam year; when exams were cancelled and pupils were given calculated grades. It has caused a national uproar, centred on the disparity between the standardisation of state and private school results. I expect the chapters of this year’s grade awards still have further pages to turn. But as the story of our marathon to Medical School reaches its end, I can say with some surety that if you want to experience first-hand the battle to break into an elite circle from the outside and even just to be allowed your entitlement to ambition, tell the world that you want to become a doctor!

Even though it has been daunting, and at times demoralising, I don’t want to put anyone off.  I would do it all again in a breath. For this single mum, even without the final outcome, the whole experience has been an unforgettable rite of passage. Transporting me from life as a parent of a child, to becoming a parent of an amazing young adult, unique person and great friend. We have shared so much, and this includes laughter and fun as well as the tears and moments of despair. I have learned far more from my inspirational girl than I might ever hope to have taught her. It really has been some of the best of times…

Re-living the Journey – just for the record!

Initial reactions

Mid way through Year 10, my eldest took herself to an event for ‘Young Doctors‘ at Manchester Uni. She skipped back through the door, waving a sutured banana, utterly sold on the idea of a career in medicine. By the December of Year 11, her drive and determination were beginning to take my breath away and I started to tell others of her plans. My niece was super excited and bombarded us with helpful sites and advice. Everyone else, clearly thought we were deluded,

“Medicine! Isn’t that incredibly difficult?”

“Don’t you need really high grades?

That’s so hard to get into! Can she really stand out?”

The message seemed clear; that Medical school was ‘not for people like us‘. And to my shame, as I confess in my first ever blog post, I retreated into this world of self doubt. Fortunately, teachers, teachers at a local comprehensive school, did not. They recognised the talents and efforts of my unstoppable girl, and rewarded her with praise, encouragement and a ‘smash the glass-ceiling‘ attitude. In August 2018, she collected a stellar set of GCSE results, moved onto sixth form college and joined the ‘Medical Group’.

Work experience and volunteering

The group told us of the hoops we has to jump through in terms of volunteering and work experience. When it came to finding a way through them however, we were on our own. My daughter hit the phones and found herself a volunteering post at a local care home. But clinical ‘work experience ‘…

I set out with a naive belief in the existence of a  ‘system’ to support us. We applied to countless hospital trusts and council care home. Some rejected us. Others ignored us. Many said ‘no‘ to any clinical care or patient contact. It was dead end after dead end.

Now I believe in a comprehensive system. I work in the school comprehensive system. But I don’t believe any such a system exists for medical school applicants. And if the system fails, like any mum I am going to fight for my child. In January 2019, in a growing panic about work experience, I abandoned official channels and fell upon the mercy of a doctor friend. How fantastic was this friend? I honestly cannot do them justice in words. They sorted out a placement. They provided great work experience. And they did something even more valuable than that; they invested time, care and interest. They were there, long after the work experience week, to meet up, talk through and help understand what being a doctor meant; why being a doctor was so important.

In the meantime, my daughter moved onto the UKCAT.

UKCAT

Despite a national shortage of doctors, great GCSEs, high A Level predictions, work experience and a year of volunteering are not enough for our UK medical courses. Oh no! You also have to take a medical aptitude test, prior to University application. For us it was the UKCAT.

My eldest, prepped for it herself with a bank of online questions. She ground through  practice papers on our holiday in Spain, upon our return, at her dad’s … essentially in any space she could find. The tests were gruesomely tough. But so is my girl! She fought through to emerge with flying colours. Ranked in the top 3% of entrants, she was now free to apply to the UKCAT University of her choice. Her personal statement penned, we crossed our fingers and waited for an interview.

The Interview

Without doubt, for us this was the worst experience. Scheduled in December, the exhausted end of term weeks and always an overnight stay away,  they proved a mammoth ordeal. It was to our genuine amazement that, four gruelling interview ordeals later, surviving sets of 5 or 7 stations of: group tasks, role play, ethical discussions, communication challenges and an interrogation of her personal qualities she finally got 3 offers.

Which just left the small matter of some pretty high A level grades …

A Levels 2020

We could actually see the finishing line. February mocks went really well. Parents Evening was a dream. Revision schedules were on the wall. Exam dates were on the calendar. But who could have foreseen that the curve ball of all curveballs that was heading our way? Covid 19!

Schools closed, exams cancelled. Teachers to predict and rank. Awarding bodies to churn it all through statistical machinations. And a generation of Year 13 students, exiled to wait 5 long months, now powerless to influence the outcome, to learn their fate…

We were back in the hands of teachers and have them to thank for their assessments, tracking and judgements. For their trust in a talent nurtured by interest, hard work and sheer grit. A level grades emerged from the calculations, not quite as high as predicted, but more than enough.

At last, the next stage beckons …

Another results day…

Thursday 22 August 2019

Today is Prom-dress daughter’s results day and, if last year, results day for my eldest marked my D-Day as a single parent, then this year’s seems a great time to reflect upon how far we have come, as a family unit, in 2019.

The drive to school is still tense, and that’s not just because my eldest is at the learner-driver wheel. The GCSE exam month is a tough and relentless grind for most pupils, and for Prom-dress daughter it was no exception. The highest stakes and the highest emotion, came with subjects she really cared about, and here papers often seemed to be ‘a disaster’ or ‘just awful’. (We certainly got through a lot of emergency chocolate in May and June!) In consequence, she is on edge about some key results, and her young face is etched with worry. To my surprise however, I feel far less stressed than I did 12 months ago, for a number of reasons.

After last year, I resolved never again to assume that everyone else’s children would do better than mine. More importantly this year, I find that I haven’t given anyone else’s children a second thought – it’s just about my lovely girl and her future plans for me today. And Prom-dress daughter has a number of qualities that calm my nerves as we jolt towards the school carpark. Firstly, she has a quick and clever mind and doesn’t tend to write or burble nonsense under pressure. I feel pretty certain that in many subjects, things cannot have gone as badly as she fears. Secondly, as with my eldest, her teachers have consistently predicted good results, and this year I have the confidence to trust this. And finally, life, particularly the demands of our single parent household and coping with serious asthma, has made her tough. I know that she will not go to pieces if some grades are a little lower than she wanted. There will be a way forward. Of course there will, GCSE results don’t define us ….

However, as she disappears into school… I do suddenly really want to know what those results are and the familiar old jitters start to return. I am struggling to concentrate on anything when we get the ‘thumbs up’ emoji. And that is enough…if she’ happy then I’m happy. More than happy in fact. As she bursts from the school, her face radiant with delight, and a smile that seems to last forever, I am truly thrilled for her. Today, me and my trio of teens, feel like an unbeatable team. It’s time to celebrate …

D Day !

Wednesday 2 January 2019
This blog may be a New Years Resolution, but a notable D-Day for me actually came back in August, my first GCSE results day as a parent….

D-Day!

After very little sleep, my eldest and I set off to school. As she dived into the babbling crowd of teenagers heading inside, I was left in the carpark, with only anxiety and panic for company. I was unsettled and on edge, with scenarios to deal with delight or utter despair racing around my mind in frantic flashing images.

Children began to emerge; some waving results slips aloft and punching the air in triumph; others in tears hurrying to the anonymity of a parent’s car, results in brown envelopes, hidden from view. The contrast was shocking. I felt completely sick. Would I hold it together if my daughter, who had worked her socks off, was one of the inconsolable ones? I swiped and scrolled my phone like a lunatic. No messages. Did I dare to send one? No I did not! I turned the radio on, turned it off. I said a prayer. Then came a text


Should be out soon, sorry for the delay!

I bit my lip and risked a reply

Any news? …….. “

All good” flashed onto the screen, and I began to breathe again!

But it was moments later, as my daughter slipped back into the car, and handed me her results that I got my single-parent wake up call. A sea of top grade 9s and the occasional grade 8, swam across the page. Her results weren’t just good…they were phenomenal!! And I hadn’t expected that. I realised, with a jolt, that I really hadn’t expected it. I had assumed that the very top grades simply weren’t for us. They were for children from ‘other families’. Households, I’d probably invented in my head, where one parent seminared through Science revision, whilst the other dashed off a few French flashcards. Homes where a duo of parents balanced exam tuition with time for nutrition, nurture and well being. Simply put, children from families where day in day out, there was more adult time and input to share out than I could ever hope to manage. I had trapped myself into believing that, whilst we did ‘our best’, we would always fall a little short of where we might have been as a two-parent unit. 

Thankfully one person hadn’t done this, my amazing daughter. Determined, driven and totally focused upon her own goals, as opposed to worrying about anyone else, she had set about simply smashing those GCSEs. And she is my inspiration for 2019. No more worrying about everyone else for me. Hard work and focus, not family background, enable you aim high and chase your dreams. It’s more than time for me to forget seeing single parenthood, as the poor relation of the family unit, and start smashing it. Here goes ….