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.

Activities for deaf teens with additional needs

14-year-old moderately deaf, fiercely independent Hayley’s off on her summer adventures.

The suitcases are out, the sleeping bags and camping mats are scattered around the floor. Hayley’s off on her summer travels. Not the rest of us, note, just Action Girl. Independence? If there’s one word that sums up Hayley, that’s the one.

It’s mostly down to the gutsy, determined and enthusiastic person that she is, has always been since she was a baby, a 4lb 3oz scrap of willpower that battled her way out of special care.

Before she could walk she used to be known as Tigger, with her strawberry blonde Mohican hair striped with ginger – the style (not the colour), the legacy of doctors shaving each side of her tiny head trying to find veins big enough to get an IV long-line into her. Careering along the street in her buggy, she’d bounce up and down excitedly with a big smile on her face for anyone and everyone.

From the word go that girl had an appetite for life.

“I’ve always encouraged all my kids to jump in and go for it”

I’ve always encouraged all my kids to jump in and go for it when interesting opportunities come their way, believing you should try everything you can. And this has become more pertinent to Hayley as time’s gone on.

When Hayley was diagnosed with hearing loss and later with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), it gradually became evident in primary school that this double challenge caused her to struggle in various ways. Academically life is an uphill trudge for her. Apart from her hearing loss she has processing difficulties and a poor working memory, and all her set GCSE targets are C or below.

‘Incidental learning’ is another casualty – while her siblings all will mop up information around them like a sponge even when it’s not directed at them, things tend to bypass Hayley. And where they will learn to apply experience from one situation onto a different context, Hayley is far less able to do this.

“I’ve often worried how Hayley will fare as she grows up”

She also struggles socially with her own peer group, despite being incredibly sociable, a real people person.

So while both her brothers and her older sister – ranging in age from 12 to 35 – are very outgoing and lead busy social lives, things haven’t been so easy for Hayley. I know the others will find their way in life, but I’ve often worried how Hayley will fare as she grows up and what the future holds for her as an adult.

“Her social life has been near non-existent for much of the time”

Without a solid friendship group, her social life has been near non-existent for much of the time and her default is to bury her head in anything with a screen for hours on end – the laptop, the TV, iPlayer.

So one of my aims has been to try to push her into experiencing the world in as many ways as possible, to help her learn how to be with people and to cope with different situations. And Hayley has made that easy because she’s really game.

Her regular weekly activities include Air Cadets, Guides, tennis and trampolining. In the last year alone she’s done rifle shooting, abseiling, mountain walking, rock climbing, sailing, kayaking, a week’s sponsored march across the D-Day beaches of Normandy, a night-time hike with Guides plus other exciting arts and sporting activities on NDCS holidays and events.

Yes, there’s often a cost involved, but many of these things are more affordable when they’re subsidised through youth organisations. Some things, like the NDCS events, are even free.

Hayley’s also got herself a job two evenings a week working on a local youth scheme – which means she’s started horse riding lessons now that can contribute towards the cost!

Some of the events can be a chunk out of the housekeeping, but as far as I’m concerned, Hayley gets no other support, no benefits and is not statemented, so it doesn’t add up to a lot in terms of providing a useful learning therapy for life, as well as being fun and helping her to make friends.

I really think it’s all done her a powerful amount of good. She’s thrived on it, matured, and emerged stronger, more confident, more able socially, as well as becoming more independent than ever. She knows she can ask for herself if she can’t hear or there’s something she needs.

I’d say to any parent of a child with extra challenges, if you can, go for it.