Sticking with college

Hayley’s been struggling with college, but there’s good news on that front and a change of direction avoided

Thursday evening, in the hall

Hayley’s just come in the door and she’s smiling, which is surprising given that she’s just done an hour of maths tuition.

Student drawing a chart

How was it, I ask.

“Yeh, good,” comes the fairly shocking reply.

Hayley hates maths with a passion; I’ve seen her often reduced to tears by a page of algebra or trigonometry. She really struggles not just with maths, but most academic subjects. It’s due in part to her deafness, I guess, being left behind to flounder throughout school, especially as she has other learning issues such as slow processing skills and poor auditory memory.

And this is why she’s been so anxious recently – she was told by one of her college tutors that she needs a C grade in both Maths and English in order to pass her level 2 diploma in Hospitality and Catering.

Some of you may remember from last month that while Hayley loves the cooking and front of house part of her course, she’s become so frustrated and fed up with the academic side, the written assignments as well as English and maths that she was desperate to leave and get an apprenticeship instead.

I’d tried to talk her out of it as it seems a better, more higher salaried option to enter her chosen career with as high a qualification as possible.

Well since then, I’ve been in touch with National Deaf Children’s Society about it and they told me it could be discriminatory if a vocational diploma pass was dependent on English and maths results.

So I contacted the college and they confirmed that the diploma is a separate qualification, not dependent on maths and English grades. It turns out that it was one misinformed tutor who misled Hayley, so they are now making sure the issue is clarified to all the tutors – and a lot of weight has been taken off Hayley’s shoulders!

She does still have to keep doing her maths and English until she’s 18 or gets a C grade, and of course they’re qualifications and skills that will be useful throughout life.

Hayley’s course leaders have now transferred her from GCSE English to English functional skills with the plan being for her to work up from there towards a GCSE. And I’ve arranged for some maths tuition from a local tutor for an hour once a week, to help her confidence. It’s not cheap, but hopefully it will give her a boost.

Onwards and upwards…

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Life after exams

With GCSE exams all behind her now, the stress receding to a distant memory, Hayley has officially left school and looking forward to a long glorious summer before embarking on the next phase of her life…

Thursday evening, art exhibition in school sports hall

Well, we made it. When the battles, the shock and awe strikes and the crossfire suddenly subside, it feels unnaturally calm.

Twirling my glass of wine in my hand, standing in the GCSE art exhibition admiring Hayley’s little corner of achievement, life feels very civilised.

I give Hayley a hug. “Love it,” I say. “See? It was all worth it.”

She shrugs, blasé like it doesn’t matter at all, but the relief is clear. Every day since the final exam she uncoils a little more; smiles, laughter, even pleasant conversation, in evidence once again.

We got through the hellish weeks and months of revision and exams. The tidal waves of encouragement, the pep talks, the drip-drip of nagging, the bribes…

It’s over bar the shouting – August 20th results day.

Students in a school hallway

But I don’t think there’ll be tears and tribulations.

Hayley doesn’t want to do any more purely academic study. She’s got a college place to do what she loves, catering and hospitality, and will be placed on the most suitable course level after her results are known.

But also, whatever the results, she knows she’s done her best.

Several weeks before exams, parents with children at risk of failing to get grade A*– C grades were asked by the deputy head to write a letter to their child, expressing how proud we were of them and how certain that they’d try hard and do well in their exams.

The sealed envelopes were distributed by the deputy head on the first morning of exams.

Apparently it did wonders for the performance of a rugby team (England?) and for the GCSE exam grades of a school that had tried it.

It seemed a great idea, and once I’d started there was so much to say. Because if there’s one thing Hayley is it’s a trier.

Part of it read: ‘You’ve shown your determination over again since you were born, half the size of most babies, first fighting to get well and strong and come out of hospital. And again whenever you’ve had big operations.

And when you find things tough because of your hearing or your difficulty understanding/processing some things.

Whether it’s learning to swim, running in school relay races with the most determined look on your face, little legs bombing along; jumping off mountains into freezing cold lakes with Air Cadets; or just doing your best to sort out something I’ve asked you to do – whatever it is you’ve done it to the absolute best of your ability. Your determination shines through like a beacon.

You are such a trier, and that’s what is important in life. Anyone can be skilled or academic or gifted – but it’s how hard you try, how determined you are especially when you don’t find things easy, that’s important.

It’s those that don’t find it easy yet still do their damndest that deserve the credit. And that’s you.”

I’m not sure whether it’ll help, especially as being Hayley she forgot to go and collect it until after her first two exams – ! – but anyway it’s true. Her qualities are easily worth as much, and will be as useful to her in life, as any amount of A* grades.

Hayley’s earning money!

Hayley’s got a new job, a budding fledgling bank account and friends – the girl’s going places

Saturday morning, in the car

‘OMG! I can’t believe it, Mum look!’

I resist the temptation to squint at Hayley’s mobile screen as I’m driving.

‘How about just tell me so I can keep my eyes on the road – is it good or bad?’

I can’t tell from the exact nature of the shriek but veering towards good rather than tragic I’d say.

‘I’ve been paid over £100!’

Extreme close-up of hand holding a modern smartphone with a generic mobile banking app running. This is a version with Pound symbol. Note to inspector, concerning copyright etc: The whole screen (every single graphic element, including battery indicator) is designed by myself.

I’m driving Hayley to work – her new weekend job at a big children’s amusement farm near us. It really is the Holy Grail of the teenage job market in this area – and she’s just seen her first month’s wages in her online bank account.

Hayley can still barely believe she’s got the job; the competition is huge. It took a lengthy application form, complete with points-based psychological personality profiling scenarios to respond to, then a four-hour team-based assessment evening with 40 other applicants – and hallelujah she got it!

She didn’t mention her deafness, although of course her hearing aids are visible. We’d decided not to put it on the application form either as she needed no support to communicate – with her hearing aids plus a little lip reading she gets on fine.

I do wonder if it would’ve made a difference had she flagged it up. We’ve debated in previous job applications whether or not to include it, deciding on the ‘let’s not give them any reason to turn her down, illegal discrimination or not, and bring it up later’ approach.

I don’t believe people are deliberately discriminatory but I suspect often, through lack of knowledge, some might imagine deafness will present too many difficulties so it’s easier to just sift out the application, perhaps for other reasons.

I know not everyone would agree, but I think deaf and proud guerrilla-style is the effective way forward for Hayley in these instances. Get in the door, then there’s the chance to prove yourself, that your abilities are as good as anyone else’s.

So Hayley’s doing weekend shifts, some on the activities side but mostly in their cafes. This is great because she’s aiming for a career as a chef and her hospitality and catering college course lined up for September requires students to have a part-time catering job to support studies.

Hayley couldn’t be more thrilled. That girl loves to work, the money’s just an added bonus for her.

She loves it – the uniform, the team meetings, doesn’t even mind getting up at 7am on a Sunday morning (no me neither, honest…). She’s made friends too, which is fantastic; school’s been a struggle socially all the way along.

Already it’s done lots for her self-esteem. At 5.30pm when they all troop out, the farm army of weekend workers, it’s so good to see her happy little face, enjoying being part of something worth having.

I know she should be spending those hours revising, I’ve clocked the looks from other parents of Year 11s, but as far as I’m concerned Hayley needs mates, self-esteem and a solid work record more than she needs top grades.

Hayley’s mock GCSE results are worrying

Hayley has learnt the results of her mock GCSEs and they’re not what she was hoping for…

Thursday evening after school

“Well I did good in some and, um, not great in others…” Hayley sounds overly bright as she hands me the slip of paper bearing her mock GCSE results.

A glance at her downcast face before scanning the results tells me I’m not going to be excited about what I see.

exam paper

She’s got a C for art, a Pass for a BTech subject and the rest range through E, G, a few Fs and for good measure, a U for Drama. This is bad. I didn’t think anyone got a U for Drama.

“Well done on the first two,” I reply equally overly brightly. “Still lots of work to be done but it’s good we know that at this stage so you can put the work in where it’s needed.”

Hayley’s very disappointed and knows that even though these grades don’t take account of her coursework, in which hopefully the grades are better, she’s still way off course. Success measured in five A–C grades may even be outside the realms of possibility for her now as I seem to recall a teacher saying it’s unlikely anyone could go up more than a grade at this stage.

Again I despair about the lack of support Hayley’s had over the years, not for want of me trying. Despite me banging on for years about how she is struggling, trying to get her assessed for an SEN statement, there’s never been the help she’s needed.

“She’ll be fine”, “just lacks confidence”… I’ve heard these phrases over and again, but the truth is that as well as her deafness, Hayley has various problems including word retrieval difficulties and slow processing skills.

So now my fears are materialising, but of course there’s no triumph in being right. Just fury and frustration at how Hayley’s been cheated of an equally flying start to her peers. The education system has badly let her down.

And understandably she’s become really quite demotivated, which isn’t going to help. It’s been creeping in during Year 11 as her subject teachers have heaped on the pressure make the huge leap to catch up to where she needs to be. She’s massively behind with her coursework, doesn’t understand a lot of what she’s being taught or set for homework – and is overwhelmed and beginning not to care.

“I’m rubbish, Miss hates me, she only cares about the A* students” is becoming a familiar refrain about every subject.
All we can do is keep trying to motivate her, get her working harder still and take full advantage of the sudden battalion of sixth-form mentors being wheeled out to help her with everything from maths to organising herself.

And there is some good news that’s cheered her up and hopefully will serve to inspire her. She had an interview for college where she’s applied to do a Diploma in Hospitality and Catering. They’ve made her a conditional offer on her getting five grade Cs but if she doesn’t make the grades they’ll take her on a lower level instead.

Still, a lot of hard work lies ahead over the coming months. Seatbelts fastened for a bumpy ride…

Hayley’s mock GCSE results are due…

It’s the start of the final push in Hayley’s school year, and the results of the mock GSCEs she took last term are due any day – the stress can only get worse…!

Monday teatime, writing up January’s events on the calendar…

Here we are, January – Hayley’s final two school terms. Last hurdles coming up, then that’s the end of her school life, all her hard work and struggles, all my battles – not particularly successful – to get the support she’s needed. The foundation for whatever comes next.

Hayley’s year are about to get the results of the mock GCSE exams they sat in December –a dummy run of the real results day in August. I guess they’ll experience the highs and lows, then be inspired to do their best for the real exams.

Student drawing a chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pupils will be excitedly ripping open their envelopes, then either whooping in triumph or biting back tears of disappointment before sloping off to mope over their failures.

I’m still trying to gauge how Hayley’s done, whether all the struggle will have been in vain.

Since last month, letters have been coming home saying ‘your child has been identified as at risk of failing to get five grade A*– C GSCEs’.

Well hello? Shout it from the rooftops, they’ve finally realised what I’ve been saying since she was eight. This girl needs help – she doesn’t understand, she’s not getting it, nor the results she needs other than when teachers help complete her work.

I’ve seen essays Hayley’s written that are barely comprehensible, read things in her literature folder and asked her ‘hey, where did that incredible description of a jewel-eyed, sabre-clawed, hellfire’s fire-breathing dragon come from?’

Because I know my girl well enough to spot a wildly out-of-character piece of imaginative writing when I see it.

‘I was stuck so Miss put that bit in,’ she’d say.

Time and again I’ve begged for support, knowing her grades were unrepresentative, that when crunch time came she’d be falling off the edge of a cliff.

Now the penny’s dropped. Suddenly Hayley’s been given a learning mentor in the shape of a sixth-former, plus another sixth-former for weekly maths tuition, and an organisational mentor who’ll shape her up into remembering where to be and when, what to bring with her, and how to devise a revision timetable. Plus one other mentor who I’m not at all sure what they’re for.

Call me cynical but now that her school’s precious league tables are at risk of being sullied by failure, they’re wheeling out a battalion of mentors for an intensive burst of cramming at the final stretch.

Too little too late! And not likely to be especially helpful when Hayley’s already bogged down with catch-up and revision.

As it is she stays behind most days for coursework catch-up and now they’re saying she needs to do more.

What she actually needs is more hours in a day so I suggested to her head-of-year that Hayley drops a subject. Hayley met with him and – very admirably – refused as she’s spent two years studying each subject and doesn’t want her efforts wasted. So we’ve agreed she can drop PE for extra catch-up. Hopefully that’ll do the trick.

In the meantime, we’ll hold our breath as she opens that envelope…

The balance between school work and activities

Hayley’s looking forward to the Christmas holidays after a demanding term in her final school year, while Tiger Mother is encouraging her to cut back on out of school activities.

Saturday morning, elbow deep in revision diaries and the family calendar

Hayley’s counting down the days until the end of term, getting more excited with every little chocolate reindeer that falls out of the windows in her advent calendar. It’s an exciting time evidently, Christmas, even for a 16-year-old – long may it last, I say.

31167_fabric_tree_advent_calendar

It’s also been quite intense at school so she’s looking forward to the holidays. The fact is it’s her final year at school – I can’t believe I’m saying it! – and the pace is hotting up. Lots of hard work is required. And earlier this month they started their mocks, which was quite a shock for her as the realisation hit how much effort is needed to succeed in next year’s GCSEs.

“Hayley’s got to knuckle down this school year”

Hayley’s got to knuckle down this school year and that means dropping – albeit very reluctantly – some of the many and varied out of school activities she usually does. There’s been a fair bit of wrangling over exactly what she can still fit in without it affecting her school work.

I’ve always encouraged her to take part in everything going – Guides, sports clubs, air cadets, work. She struggles socially due to her deafness and social communication difficulties, and having structured activities to go to has really paid off; it’s done her a power of good in terms of confidence, self-esteem and just learning about the world and how to be in it. It’s also equipped her with experience that might help her get a job in the future. But now there’s got to be a compromise between fun/experience and nose to the grindstone studying.

“Leadership experience will help her personal self-development”

She dropped Guides – easy because she was too old at 16. Ditto the local youth enterprise scheme, which gave her four hours’ paid work a week. But she is looking for a Saturday job, doing tennis every Monday and still going to air cadets twice weekly, though that’s under review. And now she’s decided to try Explorers, the follow-on from Guides and Scouts, which involves doing one night a week plus an extra evening as a young leader for Cubs. I can see the value of it though, as well as the fun. Leadership experience will help her personal self-development and possibly boost her job chances in the future.

“She’s not strong academically”

It’s just trying to decide together how far to tip the balance. She’s not strong academically, so has to try harder to get the minimum grades. But there again…

Aaargh, I don’t know!

Hopefully she’ll soon see for herself she can’t do it all and drop some activities of her own accord, it’ll be better if it happens that way. And I can always remind her about the NDCS Young Leaders courses next summer, which have an accredited leadership certificate – GCSE exams will all be over bar the shouting by then, so she’ll be able to throw herself into it to her heart’s content.