Parenthood changes your outlook in many ways. One way is when it comes to secondary school education and beyond, with exams in the offing, you can be guaranteed every August without fail your blood will boil. You will be annoyed. Why?
Because, without fail, somebody will claim, as the national exam results are much improved, the exams must be getting easier. That same old tired mantra comes out every August. Your blood boils every August. QED.
Despite the changes to the curriculum and the way topics are taught, some things always remain the same.
For example it will always be true nobody gets away without revising intensely if they want to get good grades.
To claim exams are getting easier… well, I cannot think of a better way of annoying every hardworking student and their parents who know the pressures their young people are under.
This is an intelligent guess on my part but I strongly suspect the teachers/lecturers of said hardworking students say some very naughty words indeed when this annual rubbish is spouted publicly yet again. (I can guess at what those words might be but CFT is not the place for listing them!).
It is forgotten there is greater expectation from students now. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is good they have some idea of what they would like to do and to work hard to try to achieve it.
It is also forgotten most young people do not want to be unemployed and know they must achieve good grades to have any hope of getting the job and/or university place they would like. There is a lot of competition out there.
It is also forgotten young people are studying subjects that weren’t on the curriculum at all in past decades, especially computer science and information technology. These are vital in today’s world. Science always has to update its curriculum to take into account new discoveries yet students must still know the basics of the topic, just as they did 30, 40, 50 years ago.
One good thing about Maths is, because of its nature, it must be written down. It is not the easiest topic to “do” by computer. Yes, there are programs which can help a student revise Maths but they still have to write calculations by hand. They also still need to show their handwritten workings.
Some pieces of equipment will never leave schools and colleges either.
And this logo sums up most students’ attitudes towards certain, more modern subjects, as well as to science, which is timeless.
In global markets, education that covers the globe in terms of transferable skills is a must.
I have seen GCSE exam papers on a wide range of subjects and can categorically state the exams are not getting easier.
Our young people are achieving more and this should be celebrated. I wish the way their achievements are denigrated would stop.
But I am also aware of the despair that can be felt when things go wrong and exam grades are not quite the right level.
Nobody wants students to give up, to feel because they haven’t achieved this, they can’t now achieve that. There is help out there and the rest of this post is about that.
I can’t think of many people who, when asked, say they are brilliant at all subjects.
Most will have a preference (in my case English over Maths).
Most, including me, will admit there are subjects they struggle with and as a result don’t enjoy. (I’ve always found learning is best when you can get some enjoyment from the topic. It fuels the desire to learn more and encourages effort).
So why is there expectation every student will always get grade A and A*s and anything less is not good enough? This is simply not true.
All that is needed is the student does the very best they can through hard work but also with help to achieve that best. Good schools and colleges will have that as their core value and recognise students are different.
I also believe all we can ask of our students is while working hard, they should not be afraid of accepting they will need help and to use that wisely. It is how we learn. We discover what we don’t know and then turn to those who do.
In a case I’m thinking of (Student X), Maths is a weak point. Not every side of Maths – everyday maths, timetables, percentages, ratios etc are no problem but things like algebra and quadratic equations have been, until recently, a closed book.
The GCSE Maths exam papers rightly tests knowledge in all areas so every student must have a good working knowledge of all topics to get them through the exams.
Yes, there is a calculator paper and a non-calculator one but I believe this reflects life accurately. Calculators are used widely at work and home. So to not test the ability to use a calculator properly would just be perverse.
The important thing here is the student still has to know why they are using the calculator and what they are seeking to answer. They still have to know the theories and their times tables (they need to know the answer the calculator is coming up with is at least in the right area for one thing).
It is vital there is a non-calculator paper too as the basic Maths must be in place and this paper tests that well. Things like protractors and compasses still have their place in the exams. Students still have to be able to draw graphs and read pie charts/bar graphs accurately. They have to know what they are doing and why and no computer can help with that.
So where to turn if things do not turn out as hoped? My advice would be:-
Don’t panic, to quote Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army fame. If re-sits are not possible (or you have to/decide to wait until the following June), there is help available. It is a question of deciding just what help you need and what kind of learning regime best suits your student.
If a 1:1 learning environment is best then check out private tutors. Get word of mouth recommendations.
Check the tutors have the necessary clearances (though all I’ve seen advertised in our local magazines do clearly state they have these).
If learning in a small group environment is best, then check out groups like BetterMaths. I refer to BetterMaths since I have personal knowledge of it.
For Student X, when it became clear additional help was needed with Maths, and having spoken to others who used BetterMaths with good results, I checked this out. I liked the sound of the learning environment knowing it could suit Student X. I also liked the emphasis on good knowledge of the times tables, upon which all maths is based and that the whole idea was to boost confidence.
This is important for those students who are good at course work, disciplined with homework but can fall to pieces under exam pressure. (I did it myself with O-level Maths umpteen years ago though fortunately I had a good CSE grade in Maths so was covered but now it is the GCSE or nothing! This can be heartbreaking as it is not unknown for a student to just miss the pass mark and while re-sits are possible, it is appropriate for some students to sit the subject again for another year to ensure more grounding in it. This happened for Student X. You can imagine how they felt in August 2014 on realising they would have to do this.).
I should add the school and college teaching of Maths was absolutely fine. Confidence was the big issue for Student X.
I was also very pleased when the BetterMaths course was started and especially as the student’s college Maths work improved as a direct result, there was good co-operation between the college staff and the BetterMaths people. That also boosted Student X’s confidence, knowing everyone was working towards the same goal of helping them to achieve that precious GCSE pass.
Student X worked phenomenally hard last year as they were having a massive amount of extra Maths revision (and as well as doing their course work, the student was doing all the BetterMaths homework, doing at least one practice exam paper a week at college and at home and having that marked by college staff or by me (you can get the papers and the mark schemes on line and download them).
Also with BetterMaths, I marked Student X’s work using their booklets (which is what BetterMaths want parents to do) and could see quickly, yes they were improving their understanding and, as a result, their marks. It is not possible to guess the answers.
The improvement to their knowledge was also becoming apparent in their college Maths work, so much so Student X received an award for the massive improvement they made. (This was an excellent confidence booster again and I have always believed in rewarding virtue and hard work and love it when I find evidence other people share that view!).
As long as you pick the additional learning support that is appropriate for your student and they are committed to putting in the extra work needed, then that extra work and persistence will pay off. How do I know?
Student X passed both of their Maths papers and is over the moon about it, as they should be. The hard work and persistence put in by them, the wonderful co-operation between the college and BetterMaths, plus back up at home all contributed to this.
There was no giving up.
Do I think the exams are getting easier?
And may I add my congratulations to all students passing their exams, all who did well with extra help from the likes of Bettermaths and wish you all well for your futures, whether it be in further education or employment.
The majority of us do know you have worked hard for your success. And Richard Hardie, who as well as being a writer, has been an exams invigilator can vouch for this too.
If you want to achieve anything in life, it is the only way to go.
What are your best and worst exam experiences? Has extra help been of use to you and, if so, how? Leave your comments below.
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