The school where parents take exams alongside their children

Scottish school innovates by encouraging parents to study with their children – and even take exams

Henry Hepburn

The school where parents take exams alongside their children

Parents at a school in Scotland are studying for and sitting the same exams as their children.

The move is part of attempts to get families more engaged in school and to boost the prospects of their children.

Some 23 parents of S4 pupils at Larbert High, in Falkirk, have been taking part in weekly two-hour evening classes with their child, either in English or maths.

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Nine pupils have been involved in one of the evening classes from the start – 14 more have done sections of the English course – all of whom went on to do better than expected in preliminary exams at National 5 (broadly equivalent to a GCSE): all nine got either an A or a B in the subject that they have been studying with one of their parents.

On top of that, three parents have taken part in Scotland's ongoing final exams: two sat National 5 in "applications of mathematics" last week, and one was due to sit National 5 English today.

Next year, the school hopes to get more parents involved in the evening study scheme and to expand to include other subjects, which could see more parents taking exams.

English teacher Fhionnagh Waterfall, who leads the National 5 English sessions on Monday nights, said that they are “very different to traditional classroom teaching, quite often with pupils (who have already covered the content of the evening sessions) teaching their parents different aspects of the course”.

She added: “This has helped reinforce the learning of pupils, while allowing their parents to learn in a way…that is familiar to and comfortable for them.”

Depute headteacher Jo Wilson said: “I have had parents in saying what it’s done for their relationship [with their child].” Parents were used to “a teenager that really doesn’t speak much about school and what’s going on [but] now they’re throwing quotes at each other in the kitchen”.

Families’ English studies have included poems by the Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay, and A Doll’s House, the Henrik Ibsen play.

In one thank-you note sent to Ms Waterfall, a parent said: “I didn’t think there would be any way I could help [my son] revise – I had just planned to cross my fingers,” the parent went on. “However, after attending your classes I feel we have a better idea of the rules and guidelines for answering the questions, how to spot each type of question and what the marker will be looking for.”

Another parent wrote: “Regardless of my ability to pass (or not), I now understand the process, and if I had that when [my son] was at school I could have taken however many hours was needed to find the best way to explain this to him.

“That might have been enough to keep him in school, and that is the potential for the difference family learning could make on their future.”

On the pupils’ side, Emma McMinn – the school's principal PEF (Pupil Equity Fund) teacher – recalled one who said: “My mum, she knows [now] how hard it is now to write an essay…it doesn’t just take the two hours she thinks it’ll take.”

Staff say the scheme has had a big impact on some families in particular, raising aspirations of pupils and demystifying the demands of secondary school for parents.

Ms Wilson said: "I just think it’s the comfort blanket for some pupils of having your mum there in the evening, but getting those extra two hours to really get more confident in an environment that feels safe to pupils, that feels nurturing.”

For more on this, read the 10 May issue of Tes Scotland

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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