What grade did you get, mum?

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
A new reality show follows pupils and their parents as both prepare to take exams. Warwick Mansell reports

They sound like a typical group of pupils - alternately swotting, agonising and skiving their way through the run-up to their GCSEs.

For Anna, the experience brought tears. For Tammy and Dennis, the strain led to bitter arguments. For Debbie, the class "bad girl", revision could be safely left to an hour before the exam.

But this bunch has a difference. They are all parents, and were filmed for an ITV reality show aiming to compare their achievements with those of their children.

For those fed-up with claims about falling standards, the outcome was refreshing because parents emerged with a new respect for their offspring's hard work.

Tom Wells, a graduate and banker from Kent who struggled with French, said:

"I don't know how these kids do it. Every parent in the country (who says exams have been dumbed down) ought to take these tests."

The premise of the film, to be shown next week, was simple. At the turn of the year, the producers selected parents who had children sitting GCSEs this summer.

The grown-ups, ranging in age from 33 to 51, were then given five months of evening lessons with tutors before taking GCSEs in up to four subjects.

The programme then attempted to answer the question of its title: "Smarter than your kids?".

Viewers thinking that modern exams are a cakewalk might be in for a shock.

Anna Walton, 41, a farm manager from Cheshire, is shown crying after walking out near the end of her maths mock. The experience has brought up bad memories of her schooldays.

"I've been revisiting so many negatives in my life of 20-odd years ago," she says. "Maths is where it's rooted. This really is like David and Goliath and I'm facing this giant."

Mark, her husband, worries how his son, Sam, would cope if he beat him in any exams, and says the programme could jeopardise 18 row-free years of marriage.

Sam admits: "If he beat me in any subject, I would feel gutted."

Tammy Evans, a hairdresser from north Wales who left school at 15 with no qualifications, sees the exams as a passport to becoming a midwife. But she falls out with her husband, Dennis, after they struggle to revise and burn the midnight oil to do coursework.

At one stage, Dennis complains of getting no "nookie". "It's like living with a nun - none of this, none of that," he says.

Debbie Sadler, 46, a public relations executive from Cheshire, takes her assignments less seriously. She barely glances at Macbeth before her English exam, her revision jettisoned as she flies off for a skiing holiday.

The programme sought to offer another insight into the standards debate by making four of the children take a 1976 maths O-level. They find it easy and all pass. The parents' results are being kept secret before next Wednesday's show. But it is clear they view their children's efforts with admiration.

Mark Walton, Anna's husband, a farmer who left school with just one O-level but achieved As in his geography and English mocks, said: "I certainly would not say these exams were easier than the ones I originally took."

Ms Sadler said: "I thought I could look at a book briefly, go into the exam and I would be fine. I got a shock."

Smarter Than Your Kids? is on ITV1 on Wednesday, September 7 at 7pm.

* warwick.mansell@tes.co.uk

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