Imagine if everything you had ever been told was wrong. We are told ‘facts’ and stories all our lives – but how can we know what we are being told is right?
When my daughter first started trying to convince me to home-school her, I countered her arguments ‘for’ with arguments ‘against’ that I had learned from other people: “You need to go to school to socialise with children your age;” “You are better off getting help from a teacher face-to-face;” “You need your peers at school to help you problem-solve”.
The problem was that each response I gave always came with a niggling doubt, mainly because I knew that my years spent studying at home with the Open University were far better and more rewarding than the years I spent studying for my degree with a bricks and mortar ‘traditional’ university. Added to that were my twelve years as a school governor (six as Chair) at a large primary school, where I felt the pushing for targets, associated paperwork and policies, all overshadowed the well-being of the children. I was also concerned that creativity and physical education were being pushed out by government targets and always had that same niggling doubt in my mind that ‘maybe this isn’t the best way’.
Further thought brought me to the realisation that for each ‘against’ I thought of, my brain seemed to automatically register a solution. I knew that socialisation wouldn’t be a problem; I have friends who home-educate and meet up regularly with other home-educating families. There are also numerous opportunities for voluntary work and I knew that if my daughter found some voluntary work in an area that interested her, she would be far more likely to meet like-minded friends with shared interests. The local riding stables are top of the list at the moment. Is she self-disciplined enough? Having watched her concentrate on her work, planning her days, and having her ask me relevant questions, I know the answer is yes. So long as the subject interests her, she will have no trouble completing the work. And that’s the beauty of home schooling – the children can choose the subjects that interest them.
My daughter has had an interest in video editing and IT for a long time – years – and I feel that they are something that she could make a successful career out of. Home-schooling, combined with some ‘unschooling’ (while she works on her video editing and IT) seemed like the ideal combination to give her a strong start in her working adult life.
And so our journey into home schooling has begun. It’s early days yet but the support so far from Oxford Home Learning has been impressive and I can honestly say that, as yet, I haven’t had any regrets in taking this path.
We understand that waiting to find out your exam results can be an extremely nerve-wracking experience. It is important to know that feeling some kind of stress is a completely natural reaction. But, if it becomes persistent, if it never gives you a moment’s peace, it is important to take action to stop those nerves from affecting your health and well-being.
Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory Group has looked at ways you can reduce your stress to prevent it from affecting your physical and mental health. Some of her suggestions are as below.
It’s Good to Talk
There will always be someone you can talk to when you feel worried about your exam results or your future. Whether it is a parent, carer or friend, you should discuss your thoughts and emotions with them when you feel troubled. A parent might be able to help you challenge your worries by providing you with evidence that your thoughts are not a balanced view. For example, they will be able to reassure you about how much revision you did and how well you have performed in past exams.
You may want someone to lend an ear or distract you with a quick chat or offer of advice. By taking the time to access this emotional support, you have the opportunity to let off steam and is so doing prevent your feelings from boiling over. There are also supportive charities like Child Line and the Samaritans who can be contacted anonymously over the phone or through web chat.
When you get anxious, your “fight or flight” response kicks in, where your body releases adrenaline and increases your heart rate. Breathing deeply can help your body to settle down to a more natural state. Imagine, then, blowing into a balloon: As you take a deep breath in, notice your stomach rising as you allow your lungs to take in the maximum amount of air. Then slowly breathe out imagining you are filling the balloon with air. Try and do this three times.
Keep Yourself Busy
Try and ensure you have structure and activities each day. For example, give yourself a project to complete over the summer, look at voluntary or part-time work, organise social activities with your friends and help out at home. If you keep yourself busy, you have less time to sit and dwell on your thoughts. You will also feel better about yourself as you have been able to achieve something.
Getting Good Quality Sleep
We understand that getting a good night’s sleep may seem impossible because of your nerves, but it is important to try your hardest to get into a good routine. Go to bed and wake up at similar times every day, and make your bedroom a relaxing space, with any screens turned off at least an hour before bedtime. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the hours before bedtime and try to fit in at least twenty minutes of exercise each day – but again, not too close to bedtime.
Form a Plan for Results Day
Think about all the possible outcomes on results day, and jot them down. Then, write a potential plan for each one. For example, if you were to get your expected grades, what happens; If you get lower than expected, what would your next steps be?
This can help you to recognise that there are options and a future for you, regardless of what happens. It can stop yourself from worrying about the unknown, because it means you have a plan for every scenario.
Tackle Your Negative Thoughts
It is easy to gravitate towards the worst case scenario when you’re feeling anxious. Do you believe you failed your exam spectacularly? Do you think you’re going to get terrible grades across the board? There are steps you can take to question and alter these thoughts:
Then, write down a healthier way of thinking about the situation. For example, instead of thinking that you’ve failed an exam, you may want to think, “I know it was tough, but I worked so hard that I know I tried it my best. I’m proud of the work I put in.”
Completing this activity at the end of every day will stop you from focusing on potential negative outcomes during this stressful time.
If your stress levels don’t seem to be getting any better, you should visit your GP. They will be able to provide you with the right support you may need at this time.
Getting-and staying-organised is certainly easier said than done. Many struggle to stick to their deadlines and maintain a structure to daily life, be it at work and studies or in general tasks. As a student, it’s a real hassle to have to attend school, study, and find an organisation system that works for you. Most students have no idea where to start from when it comes to keeping everything in order. There are, however, a few general tips to help you get started:
You should pay particular attention to the second part of this point: prioritise. Making a to-do list is the easiest thing when trying to be organised. You will most likely include both trivial and important tasks on it. The most important ones may also be the most time-consuming. Make sure that you tackle the significant tasks first as it is when you start with your list that you have more energy to pursue what is on it. If you deal with the minor items on your list first, in the hope of crossing them out and feeling good about yourself, I would suggest that you think long-term; the most important tasks will be there haunting you.
Have a study schedule. As a student, this should be your priority. A study schedule can help you prioritise and keep up with your homework and assignments. Make sure to include an estimate of the time each subject will take as well as its deadline. If you are unsure or simply want a second opinions, you can always consult your teacher.
Speaking of a study schedule, there is nothing more counterproductive than missing out on deadlines. Doing so may result in you not being able to keep up with the old and new material. Additionally, this will probably affect your grade and the whole point of a deadline is to prevent that from happening. So, make sure that you have all the deadlines for your assignments and try to prepare beforehand. Try not to leave anything for last minute.
This will greatly help you when you are considering how you want to divide your time. Beginning when you get the assignment leaves you room for more meticulous research and, once again, you won’t have to deal with stress or struggle with the idea that you could have done a better job.
Here comes the fun part! Spend some time creating a playlist that gets you motivated. Music is a great influence, so try to find the one that gets you psyched. Beware though, you should not spend more time creating a playlist than you would on your actual assignments.
Telling someone about your plans, your assignments, and how you are thinking of staying organised can help keep you accountable. Try telling that to a person who you know will be checking on you and is interested in your process.
What screams ‘job well done’ for you? Do that! Once you are done with all the items on your list, reward yourself with something that relaxes you and makes you happy. It could be an hour of video games, going out with your friends, or simply listening to your favourite music. Whatever it is, do not abuse it. Try to reward yourself only when you feel that you are truly done with your list. If, for example, you cross out one insignificant item and reward yourself, you will probably not fully enjoy it as there will be something weighing heavily on you. Make sure that you deserve that reward and work really hard for it.
How do you stay organised? Do you have any tips? If so, please share them with us!
When my son chose his GCSEs neither of us mentioned his dyslexia; there was no need. The moment we began talking about academic subjects and exams, he knew we had entered a realm in which he is automatically disadvantaged. It’s a realm that makes him visibly nervous and noticeably reduces his confidence. And he’s only too aware that it’s a realm his siblings have thrived in, easily outstripping him at every turn.
My dyslexic son has always had an uncomfortable relationship with reading and he dreads writing. Spelling is a total mystery to him. He is easily distracted from his studies as printed words and numbers inevitably fail to hold his attention if anything else, from a snoring cat to a buzzing fly, is in the vicinity. We both know his memory is terrible.
Over the years I’ve encountered “experts” who’ve implied dyslexia is a beast best subjugated through hard work and willpower. Armed with the hefty, clumsy weapons of extra work, support and tests, every dyslexic should, according to them, fight the good fight until they emerge victorious. If at first the dyslexic doesn’t succeed they must try, try, try again… until they’re the same as everyone else!
These experts do not understand dyslexia. If my son attended school then I have little doubt we would be pressured to obey this well-intentioned, results-driven but ultimately unrealistic model. Because the majority of children, teachers and examiners do not have dyslexia, non-dyslexics have precedence in our nation’s education system. Sadly, this leaves dyslexics misunderstood and struggling to keep up with their peers. The expert approach swallows up their free time with supplementary work and usually only serves to dent their self-esteem.
Home-schooling has, without a doubt, increased and improved my son’s options. He has more freedom to choose GCSE subjects he feels confident about passing, he can defer exams until he’s ready to sit them, isn’t obliged to study ten unrelated subjects per-week, and isn’t being compared to two dozen non-dyslexic classmates in every lesson. Whilst his results are important to us, we as his family view him holistically, not through the narrow lens of academic performance. His GCSE studies take up part of each day but do not dominate his time as a six hour school day followed by homework would; six subjects are studied rather than ten. This has given him more time to pursue his hobbies and interests, which are the things he loves doing and excels in – the things his dyslexia doesn’t affect.
All this can lead to the questions, am I raising a snowflake; is he a lad so protected from the realities of life that he’ll melt at the first sign of hard work?
My answer is no. I’m helping my dyslexic son to pick his battles wisely. Amongst the GCSEs he’s chosen are Maths and English Language. He will have to work harder than most to pass these difficult, core subjects even though he is studying less overall than he would do in school – the six subjects instead of ten. Because his progress will be much slower and more laborious than other children’s this is a more realistic and fairer goal.
Dyslexia is not a monster that can be fought and defeated. It cannot be slain by gritty determination and hard work alone. However, I believe it is possible to accommodate the limitations faced by dyslexic children. For my son, this has been helped by our decision to home-educate.
Many of you who are doing exams this year will be revising or starting to think about revising. As a tutor, I am often asked, “What should I revise?” The answer is, unfortunately, everything that you have covered in the course. No one except the exam writers know what is going to be in the exams in any single year, so always make sure that you cover everything.
Barnaby Lenon, an ex-headmaster at Harrow, has recently written in a blog that GCSE students should revise their course at least three times. The same applies for A level students, but officially there is no magic number given as to how many times you should do so. Usually, however, it will be more than once. Some lucky people, the exceptions, can read something once and it will “go in”, but more will have to go through the course over and over again for it to sink it. We are all different, and this is the main point with revising – what works for one person will not work for another.
With all this in mind, there are some tips below. Remember, some will work for you, some won’t.
• Find a good place to work. Some of you will like quiet, others will like some noise. We all work best in certain places. Some students may like to work in a library, others in their room, others in a coffee shop. Find a place that works well for you and stick to it.
• What time works best for you? Some people work better early in the morning, others in the afternoon, others late at night. Again, stick to what works for you. If you are a night owl, it’s pointless to try and force yourself to get up early and study – it just won’t work as well. Use your strengths and find the best time to suit you.
• Avoid distractions. There are so many distractions today: mobile phones, television, emails and so on. It can make it hard to study. If you are reading this now but also looking at your social media feed on your phone, for example, it’s doubtful all you are reading will go in. So avoid such distractions if you can. Turn off your phone. Turn off your emails. If you find it hard to do this, give yourself a time limit, “I will revise for one hour, then spend five minutes looking at my phone.”
• With the above point also in mind, some students find it hard to sit down and study for long periods. Others prefer it. Again, you should do what suits you best. If you do find it hard to sit for long periods, give yourself a reward. One student I worked with played volleyball at national level. He found it very hard to sit down for long periods and study. Consequently he was doing hardly any revision. We came up with a plan. He would revise for 50 minutes, then go outside and play with a ball or go for a jog for ten minutes. Then he would revise for 50 minutes again and so on. This worked well for him. You may find a similar reward works for you, looking at your phone, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, watching TV, phoning a friend and so on. Decide on your time limit and give yourself a reward.
• Aim to study for no more than two and a half hours without taking a break. You are probably not revising as well as you would if you carry on revising after that time.
• Making and reading notes and using flashcards can all work well for some students. Others can make recordings of their notes and listen back to them when they are going for a walk or even when they are sleeping at night – Mind maps and memory palaces can also be useful when revising. Again, find a method that works well for you and stick to it.
• If you are reading something and it isn’t sinking in or you don’t understand it. Try a few of the following techniques…
o Read it out loud. When you do this, sometimes it seems to make more sense.
o Try and explain it to someone else – You may find that you know far more than you think you do when you explain it to another person.
o Read it in another way. There are a lot of resources online today, so if you don’t understand your notes or textbook, look online and find another explanation.
• Making a revision timetable for when you intend to revise your subject is also useful. You may be revising for more than one subject, so work out when you are going to study and make a plan for each subject.
• Practice exam papers and old TMAs under “exam conditions.”
• Try to take off a day a week. You decide which day. Take some time off from all that studying.
• Try to start revising as soon as you can. The earlier you start to revise, the more revision you will do.
Remember, you have revised before. You know what has worked well for you and what didn’t. So if you have a good way of revising, stick to it. But if your way hasn’t worked so well, why not try another option from those listed above? There is also of course a lot of advice out there online and in books. The best way to revise is the way that works for YOU! So find your best method and stick to it.
Finally, though success in them is all about your hard work and revision, I am still going to wish you this – Good luck with your exams!
Team building skills are extremely important both inside and outside of the classroom. They are also of key value later in life when you find yourself in a work environment. Focusing more on the present, however, there are a number of reasons why you should start building and investing in teamwork. Here, then, are a couple that will probably resonate.
1) Inner satisfaction: there’s no better reward than feeling satisfied with something you have achieved or, even better, in helping someone else achieve their own goals. That may sound a bit egotistic, but working as part of a team can be a win-win situation. Helping someone and making them feel better about themselves can be rewarding.
2) Work smarter, not harder: working in a team can go both ways; you give and receive. Your team members can help you see a problem from a different angle and reach a solution. For example, each member in the team may contribute a particular set of skills needed for a project at hand that other members may not have fully developed or refined.
3) Become a valued member of your community: team building may very well start in the classroom, but you will never forget what it offers once you are beyond it. It enables you to contribute to your community when you are still at school and can foster a team spirit throughout your life.
4) Discover your talents: joining a team can help you discover any hidden talents you may have as others around you may bring out the best in you. In school life, for instance, joining a sports team can be a good idea as you will learn fair play, cooperation, and sportsmanship.
5) Learn to respect another’s boundaries: members in a team, more often than not, have clear responsibilities. Collaborating on a team level does not necessarily mean that everyone will focus on one aspect of the project at hand; rather, it means that everyone will have designated aspects to work on and do so to the best of their unique abilities without overstepping another member’s boundaries. There is a valuable lesson here: be respectful of someone else’s abilities and allow them space to develop their talents, which, within a team, complement yours.
The bottom line is, in a team you should always offer your help when needed. Friendships and partnerships are built this way, and you will never be on your own – as someone in your team will always have your back.
Essay writing is, for many people, a difficult skill to master. For some of us, in fact, the problems begin almost before we’ve even started. With this in mind, I would like to offer my own top five tips to get you past that first line.
1. Do some reading around your topic in advance of starting
It is better to use few texts well than lots of texts badly. Make notes if it helps you but what matters most is that you digest the information, so that you can build on it in your essay. To write a good essay you need to feel confident enough about your topic to write out a paragraph without stopping to look something up. An essay will always read better if it has been written in a linear manner.
2. Begin by thinking about the end point
By this I mean think carefully about what your conclusion is going to be. What is your overall viewpoint? An essay is a chance to put forward a balanced argument for a view you have on a certain topic. Your essay will be more enjoyable to write if you are arguing for a view that you truly believe in.
3. Plan your introduction
What are the key concepts that the reader will need to know about to understand your essay? The introduction is your chance to capture your reader’s attention, so keep it snappy and to the point. Any topic can be interesting if it is well written about. If you just want to scribble down some key words and come back to it later that is fine.
4. Plan the sections in the main body of the essay
Sit down somewhere cosy and quiet and get the main body planned in one sitting. Libraries are free to use and can provide an ideal workspace away from distractions. You know the key concepts you would like to include and you know your concluding viewpoint. Move on from one point to the next, thinking about how they interact with each other. Each paragraph and sentence should connect to the one before and after.
5. Get someone who has little to no prior knowledge of the topic to read through your plan
Your essay should make sense to whomever wanted to read it, not just your teacher who already knows lots about the topic. Ask them a few questions about the topic or the view you’re discussing in your essay to see if it’s coming across in the way that you want it to.
BONUS TIP: Do your bibliography as you go along! The feeling of relief when you finish an essay can be ruined when you realise you need to write out a whole bibliography. It will take a lot less time to do if you constantly add in texts as you use them, because you won’t spend so much time trying to find lost details! Make sure you have a guide you find easy to use when writing out the references. There is an abundance of these to be found online, so you have plenty of choice!
There’s a reason why parents usually push us to learn as much as we can at an early age and that’s because they want us to have time to learn and refine as years go by. You may remember being told that you need to have a certain set of skills to survive in life and to keep up with its demands. And it’s a question that will just keep on being asked. Indeed, as an adult you are going to thank your home and school environment for this. You are going to need and will start putting these skills to good use, starting at secondary school.
You may be wondering, of course, what kind of skills I am referring to. And you are right to do so. The word “skills” may take on different meanings. What I am referring to in this case are the two most important categories: soft and hard skills. Soft skills are the ones mostly connected to your personality and those around you; in other words your interpersonal or people skills. Even if you turn out to be the most introverted person you know, you will, at some point in your life, have to deal with an issue that requires you to address others around you. This is where soft skills come in to play. But which skills are these in particular? Glad you asked! Take a look at the following most important soft skills to start cultivating in school.
1) Communication: We can’t live in a world without communication. Learning to do it the right way, which means learning to actively listen and constructively contribute in order to find a viable solution to a problem, is the best way to go. You can start with your classmates and see where that takes you.
2) Team work: Combined with communication, this soft skill is of vital importance, starting in the classroom. Working with your classmates and being involved in your shared activities, whether it be sports or classwork, will boost your social skills and help you understand and adapt to the different personalities you will meet later in life as well.
3) Flexibility: This does not only concern your schedule. I would suggest that you look at it in a different light, as being flexible as to your opinions, ideas and beliefs. Tolerance is a powerful skill to possess.
4) Motivation: We all have those days when we want to do absolutely nothing. However, motivating yourself and then others can take you a long way into your relationships. How about starting to push yourself a little bit each day? According to research, it only takes 21 days to establish a new habit. Let this be yours. Start with yourself and see how that helps others around you.
5) Patience: They say that patience is key, and that’s definitely true. You can accomplish next to nothing without patience. How about trying to be patient, tolerant, a great listener, and diplomatic in your conversations with your fellow classmates?
We must not, however, forget the necessity of enriching ourselves with some hard skills as well. So, similarly, what do we mean by hard skills and why are they significant? In a few words, hard skills are the ones that you can learn, the learning process of which most likely starts in the classroom. They are also the skills that a prospective employer will be able to check and quantify later in your life. You can find some examples of hard skills below.
1) Learning a new language: did you see that coming? This is one of the most, if not the most, essential skills that you can learn in life. Apart from the fact that knowing a second language could lead to a more lucrative career in the future, possessing such a skill allows you to enter a culture, become familiar with its mindset, its people, its traditions and customs. Knowing a language other than your own acts as a beacon of cultural knowledge. Combined with soft skills such as communication and flexibility this can help you win people over.
2) Technology & Computer skills: you know you’ve got that, right? Whether you learn these at school or at home, these skills are here to stay. As technology advances, so should our knowledge of it in order for us to occupy a place in society. Of course, not all positions later in life require you to be a whizz-kid, but basic computer functions, such as emails and Microsoft Office are deemed imperative even when you are still in school. Take this opportunity and embellish these skills now, so that later you have time to refine them and learn new and more advanced ones should the need arise.
Now it’s time for you to mix and match! You may already possess some of the above and others you’ll probably wish to refine along with the others on the list. Ready, set, go!
Is the current education system eliminating imagination and artistic potential from our future society?
In recent years the British government has been accused of trying to marginalise the Arts subjects, in favour of Core subjects such as Science, Languages and Maths. The value placed on Art, Music and Drama appears to have decreased, with even the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) having dropped all Arts subjects, bar English, from its list of requirements.
Commenting on his post The Seven Deadly Sins that Prevent Creative Thinking, Psychology Today blogger Michael Michalko said, “Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that education is a great inhibitor of our natural creativity… To me it seems that in the real world those who know more, create less; and those who know less create more.”
Michalko echoes the opinion that Sir Ken Robinson made in his 2006 TED talk, when he spoke passionately on why we need to create an educational system that nurtures, rather than undermines, creativity ( https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity ).
It could be said that in a modern world, full of technology and instant request filling opportunities, children don’t need to be as imaginative or creative as they have been in the past. In truth, many would argue that the opposite is the case. While the demands of the technology that runs our world means an understanding of science and maths is more vital than ever, the stresses that accompany such ambitions mean that the ability to escape into our imaginations has become just as important.
Creativity, be it through drama, song, playing of a musical instrument, drawing a picture or telling a story, provides a much needed dimension to our personalities, culture, and well-being; In its most extreme case scenario, the sidelining of the Arts would ultimately mean less books to read, less films to see, less songs to sing, and less artwork to enjoy.
In a recent article in the Times Educational Supplement, ‘Too many schools have forgotten that fun is crucially important’, Colin Harris asks if primary schools have become so concerned with meeting the standards of Ofsted and ensuring all government guidelines are met, that there is little time left for children to have fun or learn through creativity.
Mr Harris warns that, “Many of the problems that manifest themselves later at late junior and early secondary phases are due to the insufficient opportunities we have given our children to develop their emotional intelligence through play and creative opportunities when younger… Play and creativity need to permeate all levels of our system. Surely if learning is memorable and inventive then our children will certainly think and behave differently.”
Most teachers would rightly deny that they work hard merely to instil a feeling of dull mediocrity among their pupils. Yet with English teachers having little choice but to teach us what we are supposed to think about the books we read rather than allowing us the freedom to make up our own minds, and decreasing educational budgets meaning that even if a school wanted to stage a play or buy instruments to form an orchestra they can’t afford to, it is easy to see why the lack of creativity argument continues to rage. After all, any school that was seen to put the desire to buy dancing shoes ahead of purchasing new science equipment would lose its reputation fast.
It is fair to say that, on an individual level, the majority of teachers do their best to introduce as much creativity as they can to their daily lessons; but they are up against a system that is, at this current time, discouraging rather than encouraging that angle of education.
August in the UK doesn’t just mean a month of school holidays for many school and college pupils; for those who have sat their GCSE, A level, Standards, Highers, BTEC and equivalent exams, it brings to an end a long wait to see if those exams have been passed, and if so, how well.
After the A level results were released in England and Wales this year it was widely reported that, for the first time in many years, boys had fractionally higher grade marks than girls. A number of reasons have been put forward for what seems to be perceived as a sea-change, including the structure of this year’s exams. However, this may not necessarily be true. For instance, The Guardian also quotes a research group called Education Datalab which comments: “Their [boys] performance has improved relative to girls’ this year, but this might have been as much to do with the academic ability of the boys and girls who chose these subjects this year as it is to the changes to A level structure.”
In other words, the differences between boys and girls grades can depend on so many different factors that stating that boys are cleverer than girls this year, or vice versa, is a bold statement. There are so many variables to take into consideration; geographical differences, the subjects chosen (if more boys than girls do chemistry, then they are bound to have the higher percentage of good grades).
It is understandable that newspapers and the media in general feel duty-bound to report on the annual exam results. After all, those pupils are the very people who will steer our country through the next eighty or ninety years. There is a tendency however, when there is no real news to report about the annual results, to focus in on tiny differences in gender achievements or a tiny rise or fall in the overall grades received overall. More or less A grades than average can make a good newspaper headline- and good headlines sell papers.
In reality, despite what reporters say on the television, radio, in the newspapers or on social media platforms, the students that achieve the best exam results are the ones who have worked the hardest. It is those pupils who will go on to get the university places, apprenticeships, and the careers they hoped for- whether they are boys or girls.