GCSE’s and mountains out of molehills

4 Comments 08 September 2012

Back to school!

It occurred to me this summer that I only have four more years left with my daughter at home.

I watched the pages of calendars flip ‘flt-t-t-t-t-t’ past in a cartoon blur of motion as I saw my time with her escape me. In  a subconscious effort to slow that page-flipping calendar I didn’t do anything to get her ready for school this summer. Nope. Not. A. Thing. I was selfishly inactive and only made disgruntled tapping sounds on the keyboard when I finally realised I should buy some new shoes for her and Clarks had an online sale (because everyone else had bought their shoes and they were getting rid of stock–there are some benefits to my inadequate behaviour).

It’s GCSE’s this year so I know I need to focus. We bought lots of files. I decided to get GCSE guides so I would know what the heck was going on (‘How was your day?’  ‘Fine.’  ‘How was English?’  ‘Fine.’ ‘ And physics?’  ‘Fine.’  ‘What’re you studying in physics?’  ‘Stuff. Physics.’) and be better equipped with helping with the homework.

Oh, if you’re not a British reader–sorry, GCSE’s stand for ‘Exams that Happen in Years 10 and 11’. Or something like that. And the results have an impact on your Future. Or not, depending on who you speak with. We’re playing it safe and doing our best to encourage the stubborn daughter that Learning is Fun! and trying to find ways to make it so. She usually gets mostly A’s and a few B’s (in the subjects she finds most boring) so she has the ability. The challenge is getting her to realise that she needs to apply herself even when bored.

She had been quite keen on the sciences, including chemistry, then the chemistry started losing it’s shine for her the last few months of the last school year so in an effort towards being a Supportive Mother I emailed her chemistry teacher asking for suggestions on TV shows or exhibits or books or whatever that use chemistry in a more popular, less academic way to re-ignite her former excitement. The teacher emailed back, ‘Your daughter would benefit from reviewing her notes and books over the summer.’ Seriously, that’s pretty much verbatim. Uhm… where in my letter did I say ‘how can I best turn my daughter off chemistry before the next school year starts?‘ Because it sounds a lot like thats what this teacher was telling me to do. (Readers: any tips here would be gratefully received.)

We’ve also had the Options Debate (kids doing GCSE’s can start to narrow their focus a bit as to which subjects they take). ‘Which GCSE options are best’ is not necessarily the same as ‘which GCSE options are most interesting.’ The one we struggled over was Latin. Last year when the kids were choosing options one girl with especially ambitious parents told my daughter that ‘you have to have Latin to get into to Oxbridge (Oxbridge= Cambridge and Oxford), otherwise don’t even bother applying.’ While I have no idea where my daughter will apply to university, I figure it’s best to be as prepared for as many eventualities as possible and yet she really isn’t interested in continuing with Latin.

So: when I was next at a friends house for dinner (friend’s husband is Dean of a Cambridge college and one of the people who interview for entry to Cambridge), I asked him if he would bother interviewing an applicant who didn’t have Latin. ‘I want to know two things about any applicant,’ he said. ‘Are they exceptionally bright and are they exceptionaly interested in the subject they are applying to do here.‘ So if they are applying to do Latin or Languages or Similar, then yes, they should have done Latin at GCSE. If they are applying to do Physics or Geography or Whatever, then probably not.

No, my daughter is not doing Latin for a GCSE.

One thing I never expected when I gave birth to her and watched her breathing for the first 48 hours was the intense ANXIETY I would suffer over these kinds of decisions. Many of these decisions have an impact on the rest of a person’s life. Ugh, the responsibility of that! However, I have finally started to accept that although these decisions will have an impact, there isn’t usually a wrong decision–the impact will simply be sending them in this direction or that. I just want to make sure she is well prepared for this world when she steps out into it.

Sometimes I’m anxious because as an expat I didn’t grow up with this system and although I’ve been here for 20+ years I am only really learning about this GCSE-impact-on-future-prospects thing now. I don’t want to get it wrong, drop the ball, whatever, just because I’m clueless about how it all works.

I’m making mountains out of molehills. Which is weird, because I’m not normally an anxious mother with regards to school. Probably my anxiety about preparing her properly for the world is more about my anxiety about eventually setting her free in the world. What I said at the beginning.

I know, I’m a cliché.

But you now what? As much as I don’t want the next four years to move fast, it’s also kind of cool watching her learn how to spread her wings for the big, wide world.


Your Comments

4 Comments so far

  1. you know, whenever Jon and I talk about where we’ll live in “the future,” the answer is easy when kids aren’t in the equation. But when we start thinking about in terms of the kind of school system that our children will be part of… well, let’s just say that it’s good we’re not there yet!

  2. Wylye Girl says:

    You’re not alone in not growing up with this GCSE system. I’ve English and still don’t really understand it! It was very different when I was at school but now they are, apparently, returning to something a bit more like what I did. The Boy has just had his results in this debacle of a GCSE year. He did really well, getting what was expected and exceeding expectation in a couple of subjects. When you do GCSEs they tell you they are the most important exams, when you do A levels, they say the same, so who knows. All you can do is your best… and don’t do Latin! Terribly over-rated and as you’ve found out, total nonsense that you need it for Oxbridge.

  3. Expat Mum says:

    Welcome to my world! I still don’t really know what the heck the Queenager is talking about when she tells me about her college courses. I would say the GCSE’s are very important because unlike an on-going GPA or an ACT test that you can take as many times as you want, they are pretty much a one-shot deal. BUt she’ll be fine!

  4. Saddened – but not surprised at all – by the response you received from your daughter’s teacher with regard to your chemistry query.

    I homeschooled the youngest of my three children and would suggest that you Google around and look for homeschooling websites. Homeschooling parents are really tuned-in to alternative means of academic inspiration.

    Mel Gibson in ‘Hamlet’ inspired my daughter’s interest in Shakespeare. :-)

    D. x

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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