So the teenager did amazingly well in his GCSE's and I am a very proud mum at the moment, but it seems like a very long time ago since he finished for the summer. Both as a parent and as a teacher, I do think that the gap between the end of GCSE's and the start of sixth form or college is a long one. I am not such a hard task master to assume that they don't need a break. For many the exam process is a stressful one. Although, in the English education system children are well programmed to sit annual and seemingly endless tests, GCSE's are the first 'real' tests. These are important, they can shape your life and your future and I certainly saw the effect that it had on my usually very laid back teen. However, O finished his last exam at the beginning of June and so he has had three months off.
Three months of doing, well, not a lot in O's case. After the hours of revision and the panic over the exams themselves, he seemed to go into a slump. He has tried to find a job, but no luck with that as yet. So apart from the odd outing with his mates, he has sat on his bottom doing very little and now the prospect of returning to school is looming and he is not keen.
I can understand his reluctance. He has become used to resting, watching television and sleeping. If they did A 'levels in those subjects, he would get top grades.
The problem is that doing AS levels means quite a lot of effort and a huge amount of self discipline. Most teachers will tell you that the jump from GCSE to A 'Level can be a big one and the lack of study over the summer doesn't help. Added to that, students come back to do less subjects and have free time. For a lot this a a good excuse to kick back and enjoy the social life. Yes the social life is important, but what is more important is sitting down, getting some work and study done and managing your time well to make sure everything is up to date.
Schools do make provisions for the culture change. There is usually some work set for the summer break, but if you change your choices or choose to go to college, that may mean no preparation at all. The teens will be told the importance of time management but it can fall on deaf ears. I have already told O a number of times about this and reminded him that as there is only nine months until the next lot of exams and for some it will be three months. Nine months! It's not long is it? He makes all the right noises and shakes his head, but I have seen all too often sixth formers who are struggling to cope with the demands of this new responsibility and independence. Many under perform at the end of Year 12 which will affect University applications.
So as parents, how can we help our teens to prepare for the next phase of their studies?
Organisation is really important. Free time needs to be balanced between study and socialising. With A Levels, there is a lot more homework and a lot of extra research and reading to do. It is easy for teens to think that their free periods during the school day are for hanging out, but there has to be an amount of studying too. If your Year 12 children tell you they have no homework at all, they are lying.
It is also important that part-time work does not get in the way of studying. Again, for a lot of teens and their parents, having a part-time job is a good thing, it gives them some financial independence and prepares them for life in the 'real world', however late nights and working long hours can have a negative impact on their studies.
As a parent ring the school before half term, find out exactly how they are doing it is such an important year but the teens will not always see the importance. It is easy as a parent to feel excluded from the whole process and you shouldn't feel like that. It is good to have an idea of what is going on and though your teen may moan, secretly, they quite like it if you take an interest in what they are doing and how they are progressing.
Focus on the long term goal. Not all teens know what they want to do or where they want to go after school or college, but most know if they want to go to university. Try and keep them focused as this can help maintain the work levels if they are working towards a particular goal.
The sixth form or college is a new phase in a teens life however on the positive side this is the time when many teens flourish being surrounded by like minded people who want to achieve similar goals. I know that after a lack lustre performance at O' Level (yes, I am that old!) I was reluctant to go back to school ,but I am so glad that I did as I loved Sixth form. The relationship with teachers and fellow students changed and I certainly worked my socks off with great results.
So for me at least, there is going to be some nagging and a lot of being nosey to see what O is up to over recent months, but I also want him to enjoy sixth form and the challenge his new subjects bring him and to look forward to going off to university at the end of it all (even if I'm not looking forward to that bit).