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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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…

Deaf awareness at Christmas

Day after Boxing Day, busy Christmas household

I knock gently on Hayley’s door and peer round to see her sitting up in bed, duvet pulled up to her chin, headphones on.

“Thanks Mum.” She smiles gratefully, taking the hot water bottle and paracetamol I give her.

She’s not ill, just suffering from a headache and taking some time out away from the madness.

If there’s one thing Hayley loves it’s Christmas. She’s very sociable, loves parties, adores her little nephew and young cousins and is addicted to chocolate – what’s not to love!

But over the years I’ve realised it’s not the easiest time for her, as deafness brings extra challenges when there’s so much going on and an onslaught of guests.

Christmas dinner

There’s the obvious increase in chaotic noise levels, with everyone chattering at once, making it hard for Hayley to follow. She often ends up with a headache from her hearing aids amplifying all the extra noise.

And many of the visitors are people we don’t see too often so they are not deaf aware, and this adds to stress and sense of exclusion for Hayley when she can’t easily join in.

One likely flashpoint is the dinner table. Mealtimes with a dozen or more people crowded round, all talking over the clatter and scraping of plates is a minefield for Hayley.

As well as the din she struggles to follow the pinball nature of the conversation ricocheting around the table, as well as not being easily able to lipread because she can’t see everyone’s face.

So she often misses bits or perhaps the main point. Someone – usually me, her dad or her brothers – will stop to explain to Hayley what she’s missed. It makes for an interrupted flow of conversation, which we’re used to, but visitors don’t always understand or show patience and consideration towards her.

Hayley often ends up feeling excluded, leaving her very frustrated and giving her self-esteem a bit of a hammering, even more so when she picks up on the exasperation of some guests.

We of course want to avoid these situations, but don’t want to make a big deal of it which would embarrass Hayley and make our visitors feel they’re being lectured, so it’s a tricky balance. We just tend to drop in deaf awareness tips casually and hope guests pick up on it and follow the example of the rest of us.

These seasonal gatherings of non-deaf aware visitors are also a prime time for over use of the ‘Oh it doesn’t matter’ response when Hayley says ‘pardon?’ It is a huge insult to someone who is deaf – the phrase is banned in our house – and likely to make her blood boil.

“If it’s important enough to bother saying to everyone else, then why aren’t I important enough to bother repeating it for me?” she quite rightly used to challenge her brothers.

They’ve grown up learning why it’s important and will repeat it to others who fall foul of the rule. Hopefully other guests catch on too.

One thing’s for sure, over the years things have got easier to deal with. We know that time out for a bit of peace and quiet is a good idea for keeping Hayley’s equilibrium.

And with Hayley and her brothers maturing, and perhaps deaf awareness messages getting through to the odd guest, the extra stresses and challenges of having a deaf child are definitely easing – shame I can’t say the same about the rest of Christmas!

Please note the image is not of Hayley.