Parents need help with coursework too

23rd June 1995 at 01:00
The stress created by last month's deadlines for coursework is going to be hard to beat. The professionals may talk to their students about putting "the finishing touches" to the long essays, special studies and portfolios they requested months ago, but parents talk of a different scenario. They tell of a maelstrom of domestic panic when suppressed coursework assignments suddenly surface just days before they are due.

If your son or daughter has just completed a two-year sixth-form course, do you now wonder why so many holidays, weekends and evenings went by when A-level study seemed non-existent? Occasionally, you would catch a glimpse of the demands on your offspring - a forgotten worksheet pocketed in jeans that need washing, an assignment brief dropped on the kitchen table.

These clues would alert you to the fact that something "substantial" needed planning, researching, organising and writing up.

But woe betide if you were to mention it - sixth-formers resent and reject parental involvement in their studies as much as in their day-to-day (and night-to-night) lives.

But faced ultimately with the "non-negotiable" deadline, sixth-formers begin to panic. They look for unconditional parental support.

Their teachers are fed up with them; they've been chasing the students for weeks. Your child's sixth-form friends are in a similar deep state of panic. Parents are the last and only resort.

And because we love them, and ultimately are inextricably bound up in their achievements, we come to the rescue as best we can.

Unless you've experienced some similar assignment crises earlier in the course, this is probably the first time that you've been "let in" to your children's work in any real way; the fact that it is advanced work may come as a bit of a shock.

Meanwhile your offspring, having protested for nearly two years, that parents know absolutely nothing, now desperately want you to be the all-knowing adult.

The panic, the pressure and the lack of precedent for this sort of close parent-child co-working creates a terrible all-pervasive mood in the household.

Whatever happened to all that "independent study"and "individual research" that tutors talked about two years ago? Wasn't "getting organised" on the timetable?

Teenagers' preferred strategy of putting off everything that's not urgent for as long as humanly possible can prove traumatic. They need a lot of support and a lot of close monitoring if they are to change this natural "working" style.

There is a pressing need for parents and teachers to talk openly and intelligently about the issues surrounding pupil mismanagement of coursework and the impact it has on their families.

Maybe this traumatic annual event is just that - unavoidable - but some acknowledgment from the teaching profession that it is happening would certainly help parents get through it.

Roger Hancock lives in north London

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