Ain't no cure for the summertime blues

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Summertime, and the revising is easy. You'll soon be sneezing cos the pollen is high. Oh, your Daddy's stressed, and your Mamma's worried-looking. So hush little student, don't you cry.

OK, so it's not quite George Gershwin, but it could serve as a chorus for "The Parents' Examination Blues".

At this time of year, the newspapers are full of complaints about over-tested children and snowed-under teachers. Even caretakers moan about all those tables to set out in the hall. But what about the poor parents? Who thinks of them? Politicians seem to believe parents cannot get enough of exams. But we suffer too, you know!

My elder daughter is on study leave ahead of AS-levels. So it is no longer enough simply to check she has left for school each morning. Now her mother and I have to keep an eye on her revision schedule, check she has put every exam date in the diary, and replenish the stock of blue or black pens.

Not too tough, you might think. But that is only the start of it. We have surrendered key territorial areas of the house because they are the best locations for revision. We must negotiate the tottering piles of revision notes which we dare not touch, never mind tidy away. As for my allotted time on the computer - forget it. If she needs to check something, the exam candidate takes priority. Another revision aid needed? I'll just get my cheque-book.

Of course, as parents we have been well trained for all this. It began with the Sats at seven, we then progressed to the tests at 11, and by 14 and by GCSE we were in our stride. Old pros almost; by the time our younger daughter leaves school we will be battle-hardened from 12 exam campaigns. I have just calculated that even with our modest tally of two children we will have just one summer free from public exams or Sats in the nine years from 2000 to 2008. So roll on MayJune 2005: miraculously, there will only be younger daughter's GCSE mocks to worry about that year.

I have to admit daughter number one is quite relaxed about it all. She is out playing tennis while I stay in to revise the early Tudors as I have promised to test her on it tomorrow.

What was the nature of the relationship between Henry VIII and Thomas Wolsey? Surely it can't have changed since I took A-levels? But there again, can I remember any of that?

At least I feel I can be of some help with history. But the most help I can offer with biology and sports studies is to take in tea and chocolate biscuits every hour, on the hour. As for economics, I had thought scanning the business sections of the newspapers would allow me to offer stimulating discussion on markets, price movements and inflation. But it seems today's news isn't on the syllabus.

It could be worse. A friend whose son was approaching his French AS oral kept coming down to breakfast practising his Gallic shrugs and non-verbal expressions expecting the rest of the family to get him into the mood. As for parents whose sons and daughters are taking art, they spend hours turning the house upside down searching for the glitter spray, marker pens, paper and sticky-tape which have suddenly become essential tools for the project of the moment.

My biggest worry is getting her to the exam on time. It was my greatest anxiety when I was taking A-levels. Would the wheezing, creaking Eastern Counties double-decker get me the 17 miles to school at all, never mind on time? My daughter's school is close, but that doesn't avoid the quandary: is it better for her to walk, to cycle or to be driven? A walk might blow away the overnight cobwebs but, then again, she might be late. She might fall off her bike. If she is driven there, will she be fully awake when the exam starts?

Then there are those terrifying exam regulations. I will just check, for the umpteenth time, that she has a "transparent" pencil case and has remembered to leave her mobile telephone or other "radio communication device" at home. We will get through it. The credit for the results will, quite rightly, be all hers and her teachers. But I'll need a long, relaxing holiday before embarking on next year's double-whammy: A2s for one daughter, and Sats at 14 for the other. Give me strength.

Mike Baker is the BBC's education correspondent

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