Opportunities Abound in Education – It’s all about Grabbing the Bull by the Horns
It’s interesting, using this expression “grabbing the bull by the horns” in relation to children’s education. The expression brings many things to mind. Education may not particularly be one of them. Though on further thought, the two ideas are not completely unrelated. The expression means to have a direct approach to something, which is exactly what this article is about. In addition, this article reveals that there are subjects of interest who should not be ignored – teenagers. The role of parents is critical. After all, parents are the catalyst in this rather complex equation.
I use the word “catalyst,” which if my memory of basic Chemistry serves me right, is a thing needed for a speedy chemical reaction, but which is not used up in the reaction. Enough of chemistry for now, let’s speak about parents and children. In fact, a parent is more than a catalyst, as we tend to be so completely involved in the whole process of striving to get a good education for our children. It can be a physically, emotionally and financially draining process. Having said this, it could equally be an enjoyable experience, especially for those of us who are curious and simply love the art of learning. There is a Jewish saying that goes, “When you teach your son, you teach your son’s son.” Perhaps I should rephrase that to say, “When you teach your child, you teach your child’s child.”
One thing that is certain is that irrespective of the education system or the way children are assessed, some will always benefit more than others. Quite frankly, the children who thrive in the education system tend to be those whose parents value education. Yes, social class and money will always play a role, but this is less of the case now than it was in Britain 45–50 years or so ago. There is more opportunity for everyone across all social divides.
Definitely, children whose parents value education well enough and are prepared to do what is necessary to support their children will excel. In one of my blogposts early this year, I highlighted the case of two state primary schools, one which is in Tower Hamlet in East London where the children achieved the same SATS results as the very top prep school (independent private) in the country. This East London school is one in which over 90% of the children come from homes where English is not their first language and 57% of families are on student premium (support from the state). A secondary school in East London Manor Park sends more teenagers to Oxbridge than the vast majority of private schools. So many state secondary schools are not too good academically; however, there are exceptions, mainly grammar schools and a handful of comprehensives (I categorise academies as comprehensive). The two examples above are a sign of progress and should serve as inspiration for those who may see their background as a disadvantage or an obstacle to being more confident in themselves and striving to achieve anything they set their minds to.
It’s almost certain that the traditional GCSE and A-level examinations will take place in the summer of 2022 and 2023. As for the GCSE, there is a slight possibility that the qualification may be abandoned within the next five or so years, given the ongoing debate in the media at present. As for post-sixteen academic qualifications – the A-level or the IB are safe for now, as they will likely to be around for much longer.
If you’re reading this, you must be one of those parents who appreciates education, perhaps more than most. I’d like to highlight some key facts and then offer suggestions, which you may find useful in helping your son or daughter weather this current educational climate.
14 to 16 year olds – GCSEs
Officially, the GCSE is a two-year program, covered in Y10 and Y11. In reality, GCSE starts much earlier than Y10, as in most schools, teachers start GCSE in Y9, at least in core subjects such as science subjects and others. Irrespective of when a school starts GCSE for its pupils, the reality is that by the end of Y10, over 60% of the content has been covered, leaving less than 40% for the final exam year – Y11. This is because revision, mock exams, and a much shorter summer term for Y11 and Y13 students mean there is less study time in the final year. It is important for younger students in Y9 and Y10 to take their studies more seriously, so they have a solid foundation for the final year. If your child is in Y11, they should be aware of the gravity of the situation but must not lose hope. In my view, a child of average capability can master the content of the GCSE in a few months, irrespective of how much content they have missed. It’s all about having clarity on what they’ll be examined on and focusing well enough to gain a good understanding of important concepts by doing plenty of practice questions.
16 to 17 year olds – A-levels
A-levels are one of the most highly respected educational qualifications, due to their depth and the usual rigour involved. There is a huge chasm between GCSEs and A-levels in most subjects. There are two factors that make things a lot more challenging for those taking A-levels this year: loss of learning time for GCSE due to COVID-19 and the fact that the A-levels will be the first main examination they sit for, as GCSE exams were replaced by teacher assessments in 2020 and 2021.
General advice for all age groups
For all year groups, lost teaching time due to COVID lockdowns has resulted in so many young people falling behind, as many schools provided very poor quality of teaching over those periods. I’m sure that in an effort to try and mitigate this time loss, the government will direct the examination boards to consider reducing the content of what is to be examined. A good enough reason for this is mainly to ensure fairness and create a level-playing field for everyone.
Below are four things that parents of teenagers in the English education system should note for this year, 2021 and the years ahead.
- They should ensure that their children have clarity on what will be examined in the summer exams and that they start revising as early as possible.
- Yes, mastering techniques on how to answer exam questions is key, as it could make a difference of one grade boundary in most cases. However, it is important to gain a good grasp of the content first and not to overstate the importance of exam techniques.
- As a result of a huge increase in the number of students who achieved the top grades at A-levels in 2020 and 2021, top universities have a longer than usual list of students who are deferring their places on the most popular courses such as medicine. This makes obtaining high grades even more important this year.
- Many top universities are offering up to £10,000 to persuade students to give up the spots they have secured for their courses and switch to other less reputable universities. This is something that young people should beware of, as job prospects and overall progress in life depends to a large extent on the university where you obtain your degree. In most cases, it matters more than the course you study. The only exception to this is medicine and perhaps very few other courses. I’m not defending or criticising this, I’m simply highlighting what I see in society.
All we can do as parents is discuss these issues with our children and do our best to guide and keep a watchful eye on them to ensure they do what is necessary to achieve their full potential in subjects that matter most.
This is the final of three articles in a series of blogposts in which I focus mainly on highlighting the existing opportunities in teenage education, despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic. In case you wish to read the previous two articles, you can find the links to them below.