Jill Carter: All Aboard! Getting parents involved at GCSE

For several years I have been helping my sister-in-law navigate her way through her 3 children’s English GCSE routes.  This has spilled over into offering advice to other parents and what has struck me so forcibly is how much they want to help and how little information they are given to work with.  With a son now in the secondary sector myself, I too suddenly feel out of the loop – it seems to me that at the very point our children stop telling us the details of their work, so too do their schools.

I too have been guilty of assuming at parents’ evenings etc. that parents just want to hear the bare minimum – ‘Yes, she’s doing fine, sure to get a C.’  Alternatively, we tell them too much but without fully explaining what we mean. Instead of saying ‘Adam needs to analyse what he reads’, we need to be saying, ‘Adam should ask himself why the author has chosen to use certain words or phrases’. We forget that parents could help and genuinely want to. Why do we ignore this valuable seam of support?

The department I led sent home a leaflet and ran some workshops for parents but, unfortunately we were late with what we offered and it was too close to exams to be as helpful as it might have been if we had started the process earlier.

So what could we offer Y11 parents right now and in the lead-up to exams?

  • The name of the exam board your department has chosen to use (most parents don’t even know this)
  • The dates and durations of the exams
  • An outline of what is expected of students in each exam
  • The kinds of skills required to meet these expectations
  • A tip-off about how much is available on exam board sites – free resources, specimen papers which parents can scrutinise in order to understand exactly what their kids have to do, the syllabus and more.
  • A list of the texts students study for Literature (including the poems) and ideas to support this learning such as theatre productions, film versions etc. which can be ‘enjoyed’ as a whole family.
  • An indication of what their individual child really needs to work on – preferably taken from some kind of gap analysis of a mock paper or classwork (I used to give parents a slip they could stick on the fridge) along with some advice on worthwhile websites and resources.
  • Wider reading lists which encourage students to read quality fiction, non-fiction and literary non-fiction at home (my mum was so desperate for my brother to get his GCSE she used to read aloud to him when he was 15!)
  • Meetings with parents early enough in the year for them to get on board and understand how to help.
  • Workshops which enable parents to try out the papers themselves and learn about what’s expected.
  • Countdowns which enable parents to see how short the time is between the Autumn half term and the exams.
  • Term by term outlines of what students will be studying so that parents – and possibly tutors – know what to work on with them and when.

All of this information can be contained in one leaflet which could be emailed or posted home.

And why stop here?  Wouldn’t there be a similar value to such initiatives at KS3?