Parents’ role in GCSEs

It seems a good idea to involve parents in the education system. Studies show parental involvement boosts learning. Hence those parents who have more time to help out with homework – and who have a higher standard of education – tend to have children who do better. This helps to cement the status quo, but that is the stuff of another blog.

In the main parents want their kids to do well so, if we are called upon to help out and we can, we do our best. Therefore when a letter went out from our secondary school to attend a session on helping your sons and daughters to get through the GCSE English exam required for further study and the majority of jobs many of us turned up.

It involved a powerpoint demonstration of how to improve exam marks with detailed discussions of timing and an explanation to parents about what was required to get maximum points. We had to read through some passages and suggest how the language created mood, etc. One dad put up his hand when he spotted alliteration. The teacher congratulated him on this. It felt like we were back at school. We were told we should coach our children in how to spot said language issues in newspaper articles and the like. Parents were taking notes.

Daughter one looked on listlessly. ‘They tell us this stuff all the time,’ she said and refused point blank to get a watch – unless it was some cool pocket watch type thing – to help with her timings. Surely, I thought, the teachers shouldn’t have to teach the parents to teach the kids. At some point don’t they have to trust them to actually know this stuff? They are sixteen after all, not infants, though they kept referring to them as children. Will we be coaching them through interviews and the like in future years?

Plus what is the actual point of all of this in the first place? Is it about education or about passing exams? And passing exams for who? For the exam takers who have been told since year seven that their entire lives depend on their GCSE results and are falling apart at the stress of it all or for the school’s standing in the school league tables [and related funding] and by extension to show the government’s education policies are succeeding because more people are reaching the Holy Grail of an A-C pass in their GCSEs? Is it all just PR, smokes and mirrors, no real substance?

One wonders what the whole point of school is in this system. One of the teachers spoke of the dangers of being confident about your abilities. He said students should come out of an exam not feeling good about themselves that they may have done well, but feeling exhausted and having no idea how they had done. This was the aim. If not, they risked ‘falling into the clutches of a D’. What happens to those people who are totally demotivated by such ‘pep’ talks and actually fall prey to a D or worse?
There is no way back. There are no second chances in this system. You can’t have a bad day and God forbid if you have a tendency to migraines. Your whole life could go down the tubes in just a couple of hours. Surely this is madness.

Actual education seems to be a side product of this system. No wonder the grades are mainly rising. Schools are just getting better at playing the game and now they’re roping in the parents. But what does this system do to young people? Does it motivate them to understand the world? What resources do they get out of this kind of teaching that will stand them in good stead in later life, will make them adaptable to change and all the uncertainty that they face in the future?

Employers complain constantly that young people don’t have the right skills, that they can’t analyse or build from what they know. Who precisely is this system serving then?

Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of

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