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Teaching our children to cope with exam pressure

For most of us the Easter holidays are a distant memory and very quickly all attention turns to the summer examinations.

At Radnor House our first language exams took place this week and by the middle of May we will be in full swing with GCSEs and A-Level exams taking place all day, every day.

The pace and expectation for older students at this time of year can be exhausting, especially as many of them will have spent their holidays hunched over books or busily writing out cue cards.

It has been interesting to read some of the commentary in the newspapers by Head Teachers over the last few weeks about the issue of exams and the pressure schools put their students under to perform well.

For me examinations are the by-product of a successful education which for many years has taught the importance of always doing your best, learning to work well with others and developing the skill of self-management.

Of course this is a hectic time with real consequences for later life, but there will be many such instances over the course of a lifetime and children need to learn how to cope.

Mistakes can arise when schools ramp up the pressure dramatically in the final few months and years. Or they can inadvertently give out messages to a child that anything less than an A* is a failure, utter nonsense!

Many people know I still play rugby and have been known occasionally to get white-line-fever when a try is only inches away and you reach out a long arm only to knock the ball on. Heads can get a similar condition at this time of year when the pressure to maintain a league table position or an ever-upward trajectory of grades seems to be threatened.

As in rugby, academic performance is down to a long term commitment to a high performance culture. Those able to cope at the age of 16 or 18 are usually the ones who have been working in a high expectations environment for some time, they have naturally developed the skills of self control during numerous high-stakes sports matches, vitally important debating fixtures or enormous musical performances in front of hundreds of their friends and family.  They want to do well in exams for themselves, not for their school or parents, and understand that wanting to do well also means they sometimes fall short, but that this is not life-defining and that they can recover.

I have sympathy for students but do not excuse the need to work hard to achieve a goal. Our job as parents and educators is to keep them well balanced and positive during what for many is probably the most challenging period so far in their young lives.

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