The top’s just over the next hill

It was S3 parents’ evening last week.  protantheasmall.jpgWe got there early and fully expected to whizz round and be out in time for swimming club.  Wrong again!  I eventually sent the boys to help out on poolside, OH went to a squash match and I queued for 1/2 hour for the last teacher.  Finally arrived at the pool very late to find my fellow coach totally frazzled by the demands of my beginner’s lane.  Why do 7yr old boys, as a general principle, have the attention span of a gnat?  Or do they use up all their stores of attention in class during the day and just switch off as soon as they get home?  Answers on a postage stamp to…

 But back to parents evening.  It was good to meet all the teachers and this time I was very impressed by how friendly, professional, on the case and of course human they all were, without exception.  I do have to confess that this has not always been the case – on one memorable open night, after speaking to one particular teacher I voiced the opinion that “if there is any remote chance of that person teaching you next year, you won’t be doing that subject”.  Fortunately it didn’t become an issue!  Open nights are useful and first impressions do make a difference. 

But parents’ night.  Reports were generally more favourable than the tracking report had suggested, which was reassuring – there is such a big difference between talking to people and reading the permitted 30 words.  However, a recurrent theme from all of the teachers was the pressure of taking the exams a year early.  It is a lot of pressure on the children (and presumably on the teachers), a lot of work to get through and, at least for some subjects, we can’t expect the grades that they would get if there was another year. 

Maths, for example.  They will have covered all of the Int2 course but might only be entered for the Int1 exam, to make sure that they don’t fail.  But it doesn’t matter because the work they’ll have done will put them well ahead for Higher Maths, when they should be able to get a very good grade and that’s the one that counts. Still with me?  I struggled with this.  From what I understand, Highers will be done over 2 years rather than 1, which should improve Higher results.  Not being intimately familiar with the various syllabuses, I haven’t yet entirely worked out the logic.  Seems like it will be fine for those subjects that they continue with to Higher level, but that the subjects they drop at Standard Grade might well have suffered.  And it looks like he’ll be doing Higher Maths, come what may.   More to come on this & related themes in future postings.

One very useful outcome of the parents’ evening was the explanations we got of how the different subjects are examined.   For example, I had absolutely no idea beforehand that the students need to submit 5 folio pieces for English so that everything they are now bringing home to do counts towards their final mark. 14 yr old boys do not share this sort of information with their parents.  You need to understand for this that OH and I went through the English system more years ago than we like to think.  Grammar schools were the only schools worth considering, exams were exams, homework was homework and continuous assessment was something that bearded, sandal-wearing liberals discussed in the Guardian.  On second thoughts, Shirley Williams never grew a beard. 

I have found, since the day that the child minder told me I needed to register the boys’ names at nursery on their 2nd birthday and not a second later, that the system and all who work in it assume that parents are born understanding its intimate workings.  This is not the case.  We know nothing with the first child through the system and our children tell us nothing.  So please, could someone write a nice simple guide to what is involved in each subject at Standard Grade and perhaps subsequently at Higher.  This is for distribution either at the end of first year when they are making subject choices or at the start of 2nd year.  And what is an Advanced Higher and that even more mysterious 6th Year Studies? 

The present problem confronting us is how to persuade a 14yr old boy to get his head down & get on with it for a few months, that everything he does from now on counts, and has to be the best – no short cuts.  Doing work in little bits now will pay huge dividends next year.  Ears are deaf unfortunately.  We can tell him it’s only for a short time and that once the exams are over, that’s it.  But I know it’s a lie – as soon as this lot are over there are Highers, Advanced Highers, University, job applications, work, report deadlines….  The climb starts here and the top is always over the next hill.  I just have to hope that he gets better at dealing with it.

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