These are just a handful of experiences that parents have emailed me about. They are genuine but I have removed names of individuals and schools so as not to cause any conflict between families, schools and individuals.
Please take the time to read them all.
- School MASSIVELY underestimates the level of anxiety that my son feels toward the testing, the CONSTANT banging on about college, life decisions, university.The level of anxiety and depression he has experienced hasled him back to talking about suicide. He told me he feels, "Dead inside".
- Teachers are not listening when I ask them about differentiating the work load. For instance - My child suffers from Language Pragmatics, Yet, he still has to sit a TWO HOUR test, which he will fail, because his brain cannot decipher the information. How is this fair?
- If my child does not pass the GCSE (He is currently having to stay after school 3x a week for past TWO MONTHS to catch up!!!) he will not be able to do Game Design at College. This is THE ONLY THING IN THE WORLD THAT HE WANTS TO DO! So....then what? Apprenticeship? Won't work for my child.
“My daughter has been let down by the system. To keep it short, she left mainstream school in y10 after going through 3 years of bullying, she currently attends part-time in [another] school. She has just turned 16 and we’re in the last few weeks of school, so it's GCSE time. She was in Y7-Y8 a level 5-6 and was on track to gaining GCSEs. Unfortunately, now after no help from SEN she is not able to sit most of her GCSES, she is a talented artist and is set to get a top grade in art. This will be her only GCSE”.
The effect in the short term has been really bad depression, she feels like she has failed. When it's the system that has failed.
It's been hard on all our family and not receiving the help she needed has as yet untold consequences on my daughter’s future and her ability to find employment. As I said she is a very talented artist and with our support and encouragement hopefully she will find a career path in that, and not live a life on benefits.
“My son has an ASD and any kind of test puts him into meltdown. He is only 12 at the moment but it is a worry as to what will happen when he has to take exams”.
“My daughter is 19 and went through her GCSEs with a great struggle attaining lower grades, eventually. I cannot remember how many times she had to sit her maths exam but it was almost into double figures before she actually passed, more with luck than learning.
It's was a very stressful time for her and caused great anxiety with many tears.
I believe, like you, our children would benefit from a different exam structure to give them a sense of achievement rather than a sense of failure. Perhaps it could show possible employers that these kids do work hard and prevent them being cast aside due to what appears to be poor exam results”
“Where I worked in Rotherham we did ASDAN, level 1 and level 2 along with a wide range of other qualifications in other subjects. But mainstream schools aren’t equipped to do these. Many schools do these qualifications and the school should have made you aware which exam courses were available before your son started.”
I am the parent of a Y10 pupil. He is intelligent and articulate in many ways with a great passion for his interests and very strong opinions. What he is not is good in a classroom or exams! His diagnosis, which has included Dyspraxia, Aspergers, ADHD & most recently PDA, has seen him trail behind pretty much from the start of his education, despite meeting all milestones in the expected time previously. His anxiety and need to remain in control meant he barely picked up a pencil until Y2 and he continues to struggle with the demands and the concentration required in a classroom (he has taken medication for ADHD since Y3 and currently school cannot handle him when he doesn’t take this - if ever he/we forget - school have rang by 9.30am). Add to this the added struggles our kids face with communication, sensory issues, the lack of sleep, the meltdowns, the hard time they receive from their peers - it's not hard to see how the whole system is setting them up to fail!
He is now going through his GCSE's with predicted grades of 6's, 5's if he is lucky, 7's or 8's if he has a major blip. So not much to write home about in the eyes of the Government or an employer, but given how much harder it has been for him to potentially get that, makes me cross that it will only ever be judged by how it looks on paper. Not to mention other achievements like controlling his emotions/temper, managing social situations better, travelling independently on public transport etc... things everyone else takes for granted.
He's bright enough to know he's behind, he even said to me only tonight if he could just go back to Y6 now he would feel like he would fit in there now and be able to deal with what's to come better. He feels most comfortable hanging out with the Y7s. The work is too hard for him and he said he feels like he is just existing and getting by in school. It feels like IR are there to manage any problems but they can't assist with catch up - they don't have the time or manpower. He is mature enough to know he wants to get there but is feeling like it's too late and he has messed it up. It's heart breaking hearing your 14-year-old talk like their life is over and they have "messed up" because he isn't going to get C+ grades, when in reality it's the system that is messed up and not him!
Obviously, we tell him he hasn't messed it all up and that there are other ways and means of getting where he wants to be (although as yet none of us are sure what they are or where he wants to be!) but as a parent you feel so helpless. I pay for him to go to private maths classes which I can't really afford as a single mum but I want to feel I have given him the best chance. I'm not sure if it is/will help and he even said he thinks I send him to that because he is not good enough (ouch!). I think (hope) he now understands that I do it to help him and eradicate that feeling of dread he has about his actual maths lessons in school.
He just wasn't ready for all of this GCSE stuff yet, it's too much and he needed a longer period to catch up - not all kids progress at the same speed, we say this ALL the way through different stages of childhood except when it comes to the part they are tested on age 15+!
I can't really say what the lasting effects on his self-esteem are but we are experiencing more school avoidance and attempts for sick days as he doesn't want to face it of late. His confidence is certainly taking a battering at the moment and we just have to keep reminding him how well he is doing compared to where he has been in the past and his other progresses mentioned before. He said he "feels like he has to find a sport or just something he is good at so he won't be a failure". I try and stay positive and say there are other opportunities such as apprenticeships etc. but he generally comes back with a negative answer so his confidence is clearly really low and it's all because of the pressure of school and feeling like GCSEs are the be all and end all.
As a family, it puts so much strain on us trying to support his education, get him to do homework (which rarely happens tbh) and also supporting him emotionally and trying to keep him "up". If we decided it all got too much for him and we pull him out of GCSEs he would think we had given up on him but if we pursue it and he doesn't do well, we have to deal with the further kick to his confidence that will be.
I'm not sure if any changes that might come would be of any benefit for us as he is already in the thick of the GCSEs. Ideally though any alternatives offered could be accessed by a broader age range than the GCSE's are, taking into account the need for ASD kids to have a few more years’ maturity on their side in comparison with peers.
To be honest, we have found a mixed bag all through school, we have had some really good teachers and some that really don't understand, or care, about young people with and ASD type condition.
We have had things so bad our son has refused to go to school, and had assurances that help would be given and find it has not, altogether, been forthcoming. As he has gone through school, we have had to be in regular contact to both remind people what our son needs and to get certain teachers to do what had been advised would happen on numerous occasions. Although he has had a huge number of positive events awarded and we have had good parent evenings, on the whole, we have always felt the school could do more to give positive support to our Son, he has struggled and had teachers which did not fully explain, in a way our son could relate to, subject matter regarding the given subject, and the grades he will attain may not be what he could have done if he had been given more support, especially in core subjects.
We are not altogether familiar with the alternative qualifications you wrote about in your letter, but I did think that, as you advised they had been around in the past, why such a qualification stream had been cut off, as it were, and not really promoted in recent years.
Our experience of education, during our Sons time within it, has been a roller coaster, to say the least, as it has been very stressful at times interspersed with some good bits. Myself, I expected more from all the schools he has attended, only 1 (at junior level) shone through as a putting in a good effort, but we all want to have more for our child and anything less than the perfect situation is not good enough, I think you would agree.