Are college interviews worse for students or parents?

Sarah Simons is an experienced further education teacher - but experiencing it as a parent is another matter...

Sarah Simons is about to experience FE as a parent

My 15-year-old son and I have an "only inside our house" joke in which, if either of us makes a really dull remark or asks a necessary but mundane question, we can finish it with a highly offensive and whispery muttered expletive.

For example:

"Did you buy any more Marmite (bitch)?"

"How was your piano lesson (you bag o’ dicks)?"

"I’ve already put the heating on (so fuck you)."

Sometimes we don’t do it for weeks, then when we do, the shock is such that it makes us both crease with laughter. This game is only between my son and me as my husband isn’t as thrilled by the naughtiness of swears as my lad and I are (he has a less juvenile but more eccentric sense of humour than I do).


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Grown up

I’m very lucky that my lad (though a typical gobby, irritable teenager) is also far more measured, dependable and grown-up than I was at his age, or probably am even now. He also has a mature grasp of language and loves words and stories, so totally gets that our private swearing is an almost secret code that we use to signal that we love each other. It's probably not in many parenting books, but using inappropriate language and daft jokes works for us.

You might be horrified by this. You might strongly disapprove. Go ahead. That’s fine. Like many people in their middle years, we’re struggling with serious health issues concerning the next generation up at the moment. So anything that keeps our little gang of three (plus dogs) chirpy and solid and strong enough to support those who need it is fine by me. Saying that, we’d probably be just as foul-mouthed if we weren’t going through tough times, but finding new in-jokes and mini traditions is our thing.

I’ve just said goodbye to my lad and his dad as they set off to his interview to get into college. Obviously I’m not allowed to accompany him as I’m obviously too embarrassing. Obviously.

My son aspires to be a film-maker, and there’s a wonderful FE college near us that provides courses that are exactly up his street. Places at the college are in such demand that it’s not a bums-on-seats college culture, like some places I’ve worked. Each prospective student has to make it clear that they are deeply interested in their specialist area of creative media and are willing to put the work in in order to get on the course.

We’ve already been on the open day which was a strange experience, going at it from a punter’s point of view rather than as a member of staff. They gave everyone coffee and muffins on arrival; I was immediately intrigued. Then when we went to the talk about his specific course, BTEC level 3 in film and TV production, the only thing I was naffed off about was that I couldn’t quit all my jobs and be a student there. My husband and I predictably told our son that we would both be doing just that, much to our son’s horror, and we kept it up for a good hour.

I’m a nervous wreck writing this. I hope he does well. As he left the house, I anxiously shouted down the stairs, “Have you planned questions for when they ask if you have any?”

Getting their coats on, my husband chipped in, shouting back up. “Yeah, stuff like: have you ever seen a ghost? What’s the farthest you’ve walked without stopping?”

Then my son hit his stride, joining in: “Was Jesus black or white? What’s the biggest object you’ve ever seen? Brexit?”

It’s going to be a weird ride as my lad leaves school, starts college and I see FE from a different angle. That’s assuming he gets past the interview…

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