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.

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The Exam Monster

Hayley’s family are hunkered down waiting for the danger to pass as she runs the final gauntlet of her GCSE exams

Saturday afternoon

I’m in the hallway straining to hear anything from upstairs but there’s only silence.

I know the exam monster is in its room. The door is shut with an angry orange glow around it. We’ve heard occasional shrieks, cries and gnashing of teeth, rampages to the kitchen for human, preferably chocolate-covered, bones to feed the beast, followed by house-quaking slams of her door.

But right now it’s quiet. It can mean only one of two things – she’s revising or she’s on Facebook. Dare I pluck up the courage to find out? Hmm, not yet. I’ll hold faith a little longer, which will encourage her if she’s doing the right thing and perhaps induce guilt-powered resolve if she’s not.

teenager exam

We’re several weeks into the GCSE onslaught, with less than a fortnight until it’s all over, bar the shouting. The house is a tinderbox, the advice is not to even make eye contact, definitely not ask how it’s going or offer any tips about revision or exams. Or anything. But all that aside, Hayley’s being a trouper, struggling along, knuckling down to study. She is more practical than academic and it doesn’t come easy to her.

Also, on the bright side, exam access arrangements are in place, meaning 25% extra time and a separate room – and I was notified in advance. That’s progress from two years ago when Hayley was told by the SENCO at the end of a class exam that she wasn’t eligible for extra time and should leave the room along with non-special needs pupils. This was Hayley’s right yet the SENCO didn’t know and I had to battle for it.

There have been wobbly moments, including Hayley walking out of her Art GCSE exam on the final day. But there were trying circumstances – a blaze broke out when the pupil next to her accidently set light to her own final piece. With the whole room in shock, the poor girl in tears, Hayley and another girl upset about damage to their final piece from water used to douse the flames, it perhaps wasn’t the moment for the art teacher to tell Hayley her home-prepared sketchbook pieces weren’t very good.

Hayley’s already low self-esteem knocked, still unnerved by the blaze, she’d shouted that she was obviously rubbish before running from the room. I was worried she’d be disqualified but it’s all okay. I told Hayley I understood but it probably wasn’t good to make a habit of it.

Hold it together Hayley, you’ve come this far. The light at the end of the tunnel is nearly here, last exam on the 11th.

The prom ticket’s paid for, the dress tried on, the ‘Leavers 2015’ hoodie ordered. Just keep going Hayley, hold your nerve and keep your head down for another fortnight. Then you can embrace a summer of freedom and the next stage of your future.

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 got the revision blues

Revision is on the cards bringing with it big stress and frustration as Hayley embarks on the final run up to the GCSEs.

Tuesday, early evening after school

I walk into Hayley’s room. She has adopted the usual position – huddled under the duvet still in her school uniform, headphones on, Facebook up on her phone. I brace myself. Yet surely there’s no need, we’ve discussed this in a calm manner and agreed with logic and good grace that it has to be done.

“So, you going to get on with some revision then…?” I venture in a cheery, no problems, no arguments kind of way.
The response is one of disproportionate rage. What happens next is like a scene from The Exorcist, all spitting fury and head-spinning outrage.

I close the door on it and take a deep breath, searching my brain for another tactic.

Yup, the revision’s not going so well.

Student drawing a chart

We’ve had a letter home warning that Hayley is ‘at risk of not achieving a C grade in Maths and English’.

It follows the one earlier this year which said she’d been identified as at risk of failing to get five grade A*–C GSCEs’ so I’d already been through the ranting incited by pure frustration at Hayley being cheated of an equal education. Rage that the school had finally seen what I’d been banging on about for years but only now that the crunch had come, and their standing in the league tables in danger of being affected, had they taken notice and tried to pull out the stops.

But there’s room for more anger because now they’re personalising the blame, saying in so many words how of course much of the responsibility for a child’s failure or success comes from home.

Yes I know I’m angry, defensive, bitter and cynical, but that’s how it gets to you after years of dealing with the system and bashing your head against a brick wall to get your deaf child the help they need.

Anyway, we’ve been summoned in to various meetings to address it. The revision strategy meeting was useful and seems to have inspired Hayley, like it always does until the moment comes to stop talking about it and actually do it.

Suddenly clearing out the fridge and rearranging your books shelves in alphabetical order seem so compelling. We’ve all been there.

So I keep telling her you’ve just got to bite the bullet and do it. Break it down into small chunks, remove all electronic devices and screens other than the one with the revision websites up on it. And above all put it in perspective – it’s a tedious, mind-numbing, big black cloud enveloping you, but it is just a tiny little pinpoint moment in your life that can wield a huge influence on the future stretching out before you.

Perhaps the most effective wake-up call was showing her on a calendar that in five weeks she’ll be in the thick of it and two months from now she’ll be as free as a bird.

In the meantime we’ll try every strategy, bribe and reward going.

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…