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We must remember pupils' wellbeing during exam season; head of eastern high.

Byline: Armando Di-Finizio

HERE we go again. The exam season is upon us and tensions are high on all fronts.

So many people, groups and organisations have a stake in school exams, and all of these bodies will be clamouring for the results in August. Individually, we all want the best for young people when it comes to schooling.

We want them to have the best possible education and, at the end of it, come out with a good set of qualifications to show they have a certain level of knowledge or skill set.

Unfortunately, as soon as performance is measured, governments will be compared with past governments and other countries, local authorities compared to other authorities, and schools with other schools.

The media is champing at the bit on results days in August and no-one wants to look bad.

In short, although we all as individuals want the best for young people, as organisations (with all the pressures they face), it is all too easy to forget the wellbeing of the individuals we are measuring, with all the additional pressures they face during their teen years.

There's no getting away from measuring young people at the end of their schooling.

Employers or further and higher education providers need some indication as to how able the person applying for a job or course is.

I guess in the distant past, before formal schooling when looking for a job, it was more a case of following in your family's footsteps or through recommendation.

Relying solely on recommendation is of course open to exploitation and nepotism, hence the need for some form of formal comparison, which introduces an element of pressure.

Pressure isn't necessarily a bad thing.

In some ways it is part of what we are measuring.

How well does the individual being measured perform under pressure and cope with deadlines? There is also greater sense of fulfilment and pride when you receive your results (providing you've done well), if you felt the pressure at the time.

The issue arises when we apply undue pressure - pressure that could be avoided, but which will achieve the same outcomes.

In relation to GCSEs, there is now far less emphasis on coursework.

With the new qualifications, introduced over the past couple of years, some analysts are claiming students will now have, on average, an extra eight hours of exams than they did a few years ago. Coursework, the alternative, is a less stressful way to assess student performance and, many would argue, allows assessment to be more closely linked to real work-related skills.

I began teaching in around 1988 which was about the time that exam boards began to increasingly offer a greater proportion of time to coursework as part of the qualification assessment.

Some qualifications had as much as 100% coursework.

Most ranged between 40% and 60%. Although the quality of marking of the coursework (completed by the schools) would be moderated by the exam boards (to ensure what is deemed as a C grade in one school is the same as a C grade in another school), the system was open to corruption. Corruption is perhaps a strong word - perhaps "innocent corruption" would be more appropriate in the vast majority of cases.

For example, it was all too easy for a parent or a teacher to help their struggling, stressed out child.

There was also nothing to stop schools, under huge pressure to perform well, from allowing students to do more than the prescribed amount of drafts before submitting the final piece of work.

There were also some (but few) cases of teachers being prosecuted or schools having all their student marks cancelled due to malpractice.

This was unfortunate as I believe most schools and teachers abided by the rules.

Perhaps we should have spent more time looking at how to make coursework more accountable.

My own son hated exams but benefited from coursework hugely. It suited the way his mind worked, and he managed the deadlines well (without my help!).

He is now in a job which applies exactly the same sort of skills required to complete coursework effectively.

Today, the qualification framework still allows for a small percentage of coursework as part of the qualification; however, most of this is through controlled assessment, where the students complete elements of coursework in exam conditions.

The upshot of all this is that GCSE and A-level examinations have become the all-or-nothing moments for students after their 11 or 13 years of education.

As a parent and a teacher, it doesn't feel right but it's what we have at the moment and so while we look for better ways to measure performance, we have to ensure we do what we can to understand the pressure young people are under and do what we can to alleviate it.

For the 2016-17 academic year, Childline recorded an 11% increase in calls related to exams stress and a 22% rise for those sitting A-levels.

Some argue that this increase is due to the fact that it is now easier to ask for help and we are getting better at doing that.

This argument shouldn't detract from the fact that this is becoming an increasingly stressful time for young people.

As a young person, it is far easier to compare yourself to others.

One look at all the bright young things showing off their fantastic revision techniques or easy ways to answer exam questions on YouTube, is enough to set off inferiority anxieties in even the most diligent, hardworking students.

There is no easy solution. As parents here are a few things we can do: | Remain positive with your child and encourage them to think positively about themselves; | The YouTube videos mentioned above are all set up and pre-prepared. Encourage them to avoid comparisons; | Don't place unnecessary pressure on your children to gain certain grades, encourage them instead to do their very best; | Agree a revision schedule which allows times to go on social media and socialise. I like the Pomodoro technique which basically breaks time down into segments that you choose. For example, three 20-minute revision sessions with five-minute breaks in between and a longer break of 20 minutes before commencing another Pomodoro session of three 20 minutes (there is a free app which can be downloaded); | Encourage them to get into a good sleep pattern - going to sleep a little earlier on week nights will do them the world of good - it is the best therapy; | and try to remain calm yourself. Talk to them and be supportive, but give them space also.

Childline has some very good, helpful "beating exam stress" information and videos on its website. If your child does seem stressed, encourage them to have a look.

Very best wishes to all those about to sit their exams this year.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 16, 2018

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