'Parents feel exam stress, too'

It is always important that parents feel part of school life, but this can be especially true during exams, says Mike Lamb

Broken pencil

Exam season is a stressful time for students and teachers. But we should not forget that it can also be a difficult time for parents.

Parents often feel that they have very little control over the situation, and can react in different ways. Some will never stop emailing you with their every concern. I always try to put myself in these parents’ shoes rather than simply dismissing them. Although it isn’t always easy to do, I find it is more helpful to try to get them to work with the school.

It is our job as teachers to help nurture our students, but pressure from home can be significant for many. To support our students, we need to facilitate the development of resilience throughout their school careers, something that will also help them to face the challenge of exams.

We must create a supportive environment where there are plenty of opportunities for challenge, but also for asking for help. Providing students with the time and opportunity to reach out to approachable staff is essential to their success, and by listening to their concerns and taking them seriously, we help to empower them. It can also suggest ways in which the school might make improvements.

However, we also have a duty to support our parents and the wider community. We can, of course, do this through supporting their children, but we should also be involving and engaging parents and carers. Listening to the families of our children is all part of a supportive school approach.

Shutting down anxiety

Keeping parents informed in the run-up to exams will help reduce their anxiety, which in turn can prevent it from being passed on to their children. The process of open communication and working with parents should not just surface around exam season; it should start from day one. Parental engagement in pupils’ learning is an essential factor throughout their school careers.

So, ask yourself: are you letting parents know how you are supporting students in school around exams, and about the resources that are available to them? Doing this can help them to provide appropriate support at home. Head of year emails, weekly revision bulletins, departmental newsletters, posting advice on social media and VLEs, or inviting parents in for information sessions (making sure that timings make such events as accessible as possible) can all help parents who feel under-qualified to support their children.

Communicating realistic expectations can also help parents to get the balance right between encouragement and piling too much pressure on to students. Much of the support that young people need from home at this difficult time should be in the form of reassurance and love.

At exam time, as throughout the year, students will benefit most from schools and parents pulling together. A large amount of the revision process happens at home, and research has repeatedly shown that student outcomes are significantly affected by parental beliefs and expectations.

With informed and loving input from home, helped by open communication with teachers and schools, we can best support our pupils in negotiating the perils of the exam season.

Mike Lamb is director of staff welfare at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex

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