GCSEs from a parent's perspective 

By Tessa L, Parent at Gordonstoun

GCSEs are no fun for students. But they’re not much fun for parents either. Or at least they weren’t much fun for me. It is so easy to get lost in the should and should nots of public exams. Expectations of what grades should be achieved, how much work should be done, how it should be done, when it should be done. And all of this happening, for the students themselves, at what is probably the peek of teenagerdom. By the time the exams were over, I had been maintaining a level of bewildered anxiety for what felt like a lifetime. And then two things happened which made me realise I had wasted time in that fuzz and fog. Both were things that I might have understood months previously. And both are to do with the very specific place at which my child was tackling these exams. Gordonstoun. So I thought I might share them for the benefit perhaps of other parents and families entering the public exam fray. Because life would have been a lot easier this end if I had remembered or realised them long before exam season descended.

The first was this – my daughter spent a period of the Summer holidays on Ocean Spirit sailing to the Arctic. I do appreciate that not all students at Gordonstoun do this. But they all do things a little bit like it – they all face challenges out of the classroom which teach them a little bit more about who they are and who, crucially, they are capable of being. Whilst my child was tackling some fairly hectic seas on the passage North I realised how courageous she was in doing it. And this made me consider who she is, and who she has become over the last years at Gordonstoun - and how much more important that is, actually, than a top flight of grades at GCSE. I hadn’t stood back to recognise the change in her, too caught up in the day to dayness of life, in lost games socks and school books, in frantic phone calls and teenage chaos. But when I had a moment to reflect I realised how proud I am of what she has become - who she is now compared to who she was then, not compared to anyone else. Would she have become who she is now without being impelled to try things she would never otherwise have tried? I am certain she would not. And she’s amazing.

The second thing was the revelation that came along with the exam results themselves. She did well. We were extremely pleased and relieved. And I’m very grateful for that because I do understand how complicated life can feel when exam results aren’t what was hoped for. But the revelation came in understanding how well she had been cared for by her academic staff throughout the process. This was clear first in the generosity of their response to the grades she received, she was buoyed by their genuine pleasure and congratulations. It was also clear in the speed with which one result was challenged, remarked and consequently – and thrillingly – improved; in the sense of her being championed. But most important of all I realised that this had always been clear – if I had seen it through the fuzz and the fog and the phone calls. It had been clear at all of those parents’ days that preceded the exams; when I recognised the genuine concern that had been shown by her teaching staff raising real questions about how she was faring or how she was feeling, the way in which they encouraged her, knowing how to do so in a way that was right for her – by making her laugh, by complimenting her, by suggesting some good natured competition, by expressing disappointment, different tacks for different subjects by different teachers for different students. I realised that they had been looking out for her and after her whilst also going through the process of teaching her. And, by the way, managing us, her parents…

The grades matter, if only to enable our children to take whatever their next step might be. But how our children develop through the process matters too, and how they are cared for and supported matters. How they fare matters, but who they become at the end of it matters most of all. And in order to become the best possible versions of themselves they need to not only survive their GCSEs but also to have the chance to stretch and grow outside of them, crucially under the supervision of people who see them, know them and genuinely care about them. That has been our experience at Gordonstoun and it is one for which we are profoundly grateful.

Next stop – A levels……