This week my son started his GCSEs in earnest. He’s already had a few exams over the past year or so (part of the modular system Mr Gove is determined to kill off) but now we’re at the sharp end.
I say ‘we’, but of course it’s really down to him now.
Apart from making sure he goes to bed at a decent time, that his pencil case is fully stocked with his favourite pens, a ruler that hasn’t got chunks missing out of the edges and yet another new protractor (what do they do with them?), there’s nothing more we can do.
Ahead lies a six-week rollercoaster ride of apprehension, exhilaration when the revised topics come up and probably a touch of despair if things don’t quite go to plan.
I’d like to be able to offer him some pearls of wisdom gleaned from my own experiences of exam-taking, but I think he’s probably much better prepared than I ever was. In fact, most of his school life appears to have been spent preparing for and taking exams.
When I did my O-levels all those years ago, we did a mock exam, possibly looked at one or two previous papers and that was it, whereas my son and his classmates have been drilled in exam technique for years.
And results have no doubt improved –the league tables clearly demonstrate it – but I do feel a bit sorry for today’s youngsters because their results and achievements don’t just belong to them.
My O-level results were probably recorded on a ‘database’ somewhere – though since there wasn’t a computer in the school I suspect this comprised a sheaf of paper stuffed into a filing cabinet drawer – but I don’t suppose they were pored over and analysed like they are by today’s spreadsheet-obsessed administrators.
Now, exam results are public property, used as a political weapon, a financial lever, and schools can be deemed to be weak if not enough youngsters hit the magic ‘five or more good GCSEs’. The pressure on schools and teachers – and thus the students – is extreme.
But in the end, none of that matters. What really matters is the efforts of each individual. All we can ask is that our children do their best and celebrate whatever outcome this brings.
Good luck to all of you.