Exam time is looming - if you've got children of secondary school age, the stress levels in your household are probably increasing as I write. But not only your children's.
Exams seem to be emerging as a new battleground not only for children, but schools, government and now seem to be responsible for dragging parents into a new fear spiral. It's a very different world from when we were kids.
And this year the stakes seem to be higher:
- Starting in 2017 with English and maths, new GCSEs in England will be graded from 9 to 1, with 9 being the top grade. What does that mean? We're told the new exams are going to be more challenging and reward only top students with a 9, but nobody's quite sure beyond that. Though one knock-on effect of the new exam system reportedly is girls being more likely to shun maths at A level.
- School Cuts: while the government has confirmed new funding for free schools (including grammar schools), the Budget didn't include any money to help schools facing a funding squeeze. Naturally, it elicits the question: how does this affect my child's education and potential to succeed?
- Meanwhile, headteachers and teachers are being squeezed and are leaving the profession...
As a parent already you're nervous, right? And that's before your child comes home with a question about algebra. I have three children, Christopher, Nicholas and Alice aged from five until their teens and can see how different education is now - and particularly around tests and exams - compared to when I was at school. It's nerve-wracking.
BBC Radio 5 ran a poll recently which revealed nearly a quarter (24%) of British parents said their own mental health had been affected by the pressure of their children's exams while two in five parents (42%) said not knowing how to help their children with revision made them feel as if they were "not good enough as parents".
Most interestingly, the poll also revealed that more than half (52%) would like more help and advice on how to support their children through their revision.
This 'new parental angst' reflects the new digital age's overload of information and yet seeming lack of effective solutions: parents often don't know who or where to turn to for advice. Friends? Tutors? Teachers? Even admitting your child may need extra help comes laced with an extra angst-inducing feeling of shame.
Obviously, you don't want your child to get stuck in ongoing resits of core subjects like Maths and English as that's a whole other world of pain - as the BBC has also revealed.
So what can you do?
Here are the tools I see available to parents and how best to use them in the run up to the new GCSEs and this summer's exam season:
Tutoring - Best for Long-Term Support
As the pressure to obtain high GCSE grades grows, so does the popularity of tutoring: around a quarter of UK pupils have now had private tutoring at some point during their education. This can be costly and annoying to facilitate on a regular basis but in terms of helping your child to learn, if they're struggling in certain areas, then nothing's quite like one-on-one help.
Apps - Best for Revision Support
Your children need structure revision to succeed, but there are a number of apps on the market that allow your child to create notes and ways to help memorise, be that with games, mind maps, quizzes, notes, flashcards or slides. Of course, you have to set these up yourself and make them work for your own child's revision style.
Practice Papers - Best for the Run Up to Exams
When it comes to the final months before the exams, your child should have done their 'learning'. Now it's about making sure the knowledge sticks and what's so vital is for them to have experience in exam practice and knowing what methodology the exam boards are evaluating - particularly for the new GCSEs this year. That's why I set up schoolexams.co.uk: to deliver downloadable papers and video tutorials that allow your child to practice, mark themselves and most importantly understand how exams work, even for the new 2017 ones.
Love - Best for On-The-Day Support
There's not much you can do at this stage except make sure they're best prepped for the exam, so a good night's sleep, a healthy breakfast that's going to fire their brain not mess with their metabolism with sugars and carbs; helping them stay well-hydrated and a lot of love and support to make them feel they can tackle anything is vital.
From a practical perspective, remind them to read the instructions and pace themselves accordingly for each question (again schoolexams.co.uk can help with that beforehand!)
I hope this advice helps. Please remember every child is different and it's important to help them navigate through the noise and find what's best for them and at what stage they're at in their revision.
And dare I say it? Remember your child has loads and loads of wonderful qualities that will do him or her well in life whatever their exam results. Good luck.