Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Exam contemplations.

As I write we are amid the exam season once again. This is the fourth year we have experienced exams as a home educating family, and I think with trepidation of the next, ooh ten years or so, we have to go!

Exams; one chance, or perhaps two, if one has two papers, to gain decent grades and be successful. No matter if the student feels under the weather, has a serious worry, suffers 'exam freeze'...it is all down to how they perform in those exams, and woe besides anything or anyone who distracts them.

Is this fair and just? Probably not. Yet for years this is how the UK educational system has functioned  and A levels seem to be becoming harder and more demanding and the IGCSEs the home educated children must do, in place of the GCSEs, are far more rigorous.

 Marie, my 16yr old daughter - now there's is a story and reminds me always to be prepared for surprises. All her educational life she has been astute and clever gaining very high marks in every subject she's applied herself to. She is our second child and even though I knew how bright Ben was, Marie always seemed slightly more academic and seemed to absorb and understand subjects like Latin and Maths with more ease than Ben. It was only natural, I naively presumed, that she'd breeze through her IGCSEs. How wrong I was! It isn't that Marie has failed in any way, yet she has not achieved what she is capable of.

As home educators, we usually have to teach at quite a high level, or at least guide (in my home!) and I knew from Marie's work she was very intelligent. She would return from the first two exams reasonably happy and certainly not flustered only to find a few months later she had not gained the high grades she had hoped for. On exam number three (Biology ICGSE) we sat down and discussed it. 'No, no, I absolutely do not panic!' she exclaimed, yet something was wrong. On asking for her Latin paper back (she gained a C at 14years old which in retrospect is not that bad!) her tutor said he would not have recognised that it was her as it was so far from her usual high standard.
We realised she was experiencing 'exam freeze', where she would just clam up and think she had forgotten everything through nerves and then write either muddled answers or even be unable to answer at all.

So, what to do? Over that year, Marie's confidence in her studies wavered, so much so that at times she would ask me never to put her in for an exam again. She re-sat a couple of exams and did better, but life is not for re-sits and it hurt me to see her self esteem diminish because of the exam world.

We discussed it in length and as Marie is blessed to know what she would like to do for a career - nursing/possibly midwifery -  she went and found the simplest way she could enter this profession. (Another skill home educated children seem to acquire- the gift of being independent enough to find things out for themselves).

She completed three more IGCSEs this year (the minimum I suggested!)- English Language, English Literature and Art. This will give her (if, please God, she passes!) six IGCSEs (and  German too), and she has discovered she can take an Access course to Midwifery which will allow her to bypass A levels and any further exams until degree level.

The Access course is in place of three A levels and one needs no qualifications to apply. I had previously thought one had to be over 18 years old to begin yet they are happy to accept Marie at just 17. The bonus of it as well is it is from home, so she will not be entering a school as Ben has done, and which she is opposed to.

As for Ben he is nearing the end of his two years in sixth form, in fact school life is now complete and he just goes in to write his exams.
It has had it's pros and cons and I still believe it was best for Ben, but entering a secular school as a traditional Catholic previously home schooled brings it's difficulties and it was only because I had great faith in his strengths and purity of heart was I less reluctant for him to go.

That said, he has now seen a little of the world and had a taste for what will come next. He would return home at night, discuss his day and the conversations he had been involved in or overheard (if he needed to, but as a boy, he is never too eager to evaluate things!) and made some good friends whom accepted and liked him for who he is. It has not been detrimental to him in any way, and in some areas it has been very beneficial, especially the rugby and football playing and the two trips abroad.

Secondary education, but especially post-14 yrs, is a real battle for Catholic parents and their children, Where to send them, which subjects to study, which school if any, which course online...it is a continuing minefield and we can only, as I have tried to do here, help each other along with our own experiences.

Please keep all children sitting exams and discerning their educational future in your prayers, and May the most Holy Family protect and guide them!

(For the Distance Learning courses where the Access course is see this link- http://www.distancelearningcentre.com/about_DLC.php)