Some standard reflections

jane-on-cita-scillies.jpgNow that the silly grin is starting to wear off GP1’s face and school is back in earnest, I thought it was time to reflect on our experience of sitting Standard Grades in S3.  After all, this is pretty much where I came in, although my blog posts have since ambled off into all sorts of areas of general family life. 

Just to be clear at the outset, we are all very pleased with GP1’s results; 6 credits, a 3 and an A.  They’re not going to set the world alight but he has done averagely well, met most of the target grades and has good enough grades to move on to whatever he wants to do next.  It is something of a relief, given that he appeared to do very little work and I still think he had no idea how to work by himself at home – although he is conscientious and I’m quite sure he did generally work well in class. Those 2s could so easily have slipped down to 3s.  Certainly the subjects he got 1s in were the most modular, with the largest elements of assessment outside exams (I think!).  

Would he have done better if he had done the exams next year?  There is no way of telling and, in any case, it doesn’t really matter given that he has done OK.  With another year, he might have been confident enough with German to sit the Credit exam as latterly he did seem to be getting to grips with it.  He would almost certainly have sat Int 2 rather than Int 1 Maths, as I believe they’re doing Int 2 this year and Higher next. 

I do realise that I should have had more faith in the teachers knowing what was needed to get through the exams.  After all, they do this all the time!  In particular, I am eternally grateful to the wonderful chemistry teacher who taught them most of the course in a year, picking up a shambles from a disastrous S2.  (I would like to name names but I’m sure you know who are, so thank you.  As you’re probably not reading this, perhaps someone else can pass the message along!) I should have believed those people who told me that boys do this all the time – they manage to pull it out of the bag at the last minute.  I ought to have paid more attention to my two teacher sisters, who assured me that GCSEs (and by inference SGs) aren’t, in fact, that difficult as long as the children are moderately intelligent, turn up to lessons and do the work they’re set.  At least I think that’s a fair paraphrase of what they said.

Will the school judge the experience to be a success?  I’m not in a position to know so on that score we’ll have to wait and see.   

Do I think this has been a good thing?  They will do their Highers over 2 years, which should make for a more relaxed and possibly more successful experience, and I’m sure that’s a bonus.  The majority of the other parents that I’ve spoken to seem to think exams in S3  is a great idea, and more so in the light of good results.  But my 14 year old son now has only 5 subjects on his timetable – English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Music.  Engineering seems like a good plan at the moment, but in 2 years time he might want to be an archaeologist, or a geographer or a PE teacher or a banker.  Who knows? 12 year old has gone from something like 17 subjects last year to 8 this year.  I feel that their general education has been sacrificed at the expense of exam results and I can find no way to see around that. 

I am aware that, if we don’t like the system, we have the choice to move schools.  But the children are happy at Ross High, they’re doing well and that is where their friends are.  They don’t spend hours a day travelling to school.  The staff are on the whole very professional, enthusiastic and good at their jobs.  It would also be very disruptive to move from one system (SGs in 3rd year/Yr 10) to another (SGs in 4th year or GCSEs/A levels).  So moving schools, unless as a byproduct of moving house, has not figured in our thoughts.

It appears to be a complete conundrum.  We of course want to see our children do well in exams as currently that is their way into their future in the outside world.  The school needs good exam results as that is the measure of their success in educating our children and provides their standing in league tables and the community.  The media, Government and employers talk about standards in literacy and numeracy.  Individual subject specialists are horrified that children don’t learn History, for example, beyond 16 (16??!! GP2 has given up History at 12) or that Computing isn’t comulsory.   

Does it matter what subjects the children are learning and how broad their education is?  Should schools just be concentrating first on literacy and numeracy and secondly on teaching children how to learn, to enjoy learning, to access information and how to be responsible members of society? Is it irrelevant what subjects they study?  After all, I’m not sure I can remember too much of what I learned in History O level.  As parents, is it our responsibility to provide the background general and cultural knowledge and should we expect schools to be increasingly specialist rather than generalist? 

I do think that in society as a whole we’re just too hung up on exam results.  I also think we always will be.

7 thoughts on “Some standard reflections

  1. Fascinating post and demonstrates once again the value of blogs from a variety of perspectives.

  2. Pingback: Don’s Learning Log » Blog Archive » Telling the story

  3. Thanks Don! I just wish I could get my head round the facts that 1) everyone else seems to think that early choices/exams is a great idea and 2) I think that specialising so young is a seriously bad idea.

  4. This brings back memories. I am not sure that specialising so young is a bad idea as long as it goes hand- in- hand with encouraging your son to think more widely than his subjects might imply. And, you are right , the measure of success and the indicators for getting into good jobs are still very much exam pass based. When my son decided that he was going to pack school in in sixth year without sitting his Highers his ( very wise) teacher told him just to remember that having passed some exams made the choices for the future different – and possibly wider – than if he didn’t. He did pass – boy was it a struggle – and went onto do a course at university that we would never have envisaged him doing. And he is really enjoying it.
    It will be interesting for you to reflect on this time 10 years on. Although it was all consuming at the time I can barely remember it now ( your post has stirred up old memories) as it has been supercede by the ongoing successes of both of my children – some of which are based on exam passes and others which relate to their growth and success as human beings.
    Love the blog

  5. Hi Jackie. Thanks for your comments! I appreciate that in a few years this will all seem irrelevant – in fact, it almost does already and it is easy for complacency to take over. And I already take pleasure in seeing the boys grow up into personable (at least occasionally!) and responsible members of society.

    I suppose part of the problem is that parents are only involved and interested as parents for the few years that their children are in the system. Already I have little more than a passing interest in the local primary school, despite umpteen years on the School Board. And by the time as a parent you’ve worked out how things work, it’s too late as your children have been and gone. It must make it very difficult to introduce any meaningful change in, for example, the perception of exam results, that has the support of parents as the parents are always changing.

    If you see what I mean! I think that’s a little confused but it’s late at night. As usual.

  6. Maybe we parents who have been through/are going through it could be a valuable -and as yet untapped – resource to the planners and decision makers in the education system?


  7. Maybe so, although I always feel very much of a lay person where education is concerned. I do reassure myself by thinking that most planners and decision makers are probably also parents.

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