Dawn Savidge acknowledges how tough results day can be for child and parents alike, and suggests some ways to prepare for and enjoy the day
I still remember GCSE results day (25+ years on). The feeling in my stomach, the ‘what ifs’ charging around my head. My worry about what my parents might say, the excitement at the reward I might get and the fear of what my Grandad would say about my English result…
I’m privileged to have had access to education, a relatively stable home life and a brain that is wired in a way that meant I could learn enough in school to pass my exams.
I believe our education system, though highly advanced in many ways, still defines ‘success’ too narrowly. Success at 16 means an ability to demonstrate specific knowledge in a specific way at a specific time. Someone’s ability to do that depends on SO much else. I love the things that circulate on social media at this time of year that remind us that GCSEs (and any test) don’t measure the kind of friend you are, how much you persevered, the progress you’ve made. It doesn’t measure your ability in a potentially vast array of other areas not covered by a curriculum currently delivered in most high schools. These messages are counter cultural in a society where the pressure on school students has never been greater and the expectations never higher.
If you’re not facing GCSE results day for someone in your home this year, then I would encourage you to lay foundations now for the breadth of ways that success can and should be measured and celebrated, to look for and grow skills in our children in whatever form that takes.
I remember going out for a celebratory dinner with one of the teenagers that we fostered because every day of that half term they had tried to go in to school. It was a big deal and represented huge progress. There was no certificate for that, it wasn’t something that could go on their CV but it represented a significant character shift and hard work that deserved every bite of that meal. I want to build a celebratory culture in our home and family – for the big and little things. Any time I celebrate one of my teenagers for anything they ask if it’s ‘worth a bag of Percy Pigs’. Not everything will be a meal out or warrant a gift, but I would love those who are part of our family to know that we saw and acknowledged their success whenever it came and however it looked.
If we build that culture in to our family, when GCSEs come they’re built on that foundation and our children’s perspective is shaped by that wider context.
Maybe you’ve got a child who’s wired for brilliant academic success – celebrate it, encourage hard work, fan in to flames that gift within them. And encourage them to think beyond just academic triumphs so they can also see and celebrate other success, for themselves and in others.
And if your child isn’t wired for academia, at all, or only in some ways, grow whatever brilliance is in them – it’s there because they’re made in the image of God and He’s placed it there. We get to model a different way of thinking about success. We get to choose where and if to apply pressure.
We’re called to live differently, and I wonder if the value we place on academic success might be part of that?
But what if this year brings GCSE results day to your home? Here’s 5 things you could do:
1. Talk about it
Talk with your teenager about how they want to mark the day, regardless of the results. What do they want to do – do they want to go out for food, hang out with friends, stay home and watch a film? Talk about your desire to celebrate THEM whatever they may (or may not) have achieved academically and follow their lead, even if it’s different to what you might choose.
What if they don’t get the results they’re hoping for? Ask them how they want you to approach it. Talk about how they want to share the news, good or otherwise, with who and when, and how you can support them in doing that. It might mean you need to tell grandparents and enthusiastic neighbours to wait but in doing so it could remove potential pressure for your teenager.
2. Expect big feelings
Failing sucks. It’s hard and it hurts. If that happens, those feelings need to come out. We get to be alongside them as they come out. Let’s be ready to make space for the feelings – fear, embarrassment, sadness, frustration, blame and more - however imperfectly they’re likely to be expressed.
Sometimes we can rush to solve problems, to say ‘it’ll be OK’. The reality is, that whatever the results, it will be OK, but we mustn’t move too quickly to that because it doesn’t feel it at the time. And we must resist the temptation to say things like ‘if you’d revised that night I told you….’ even if that’s easier said than done!
And if your child has had incredible results then knowing how to handle that can be difficult especially alongside friends who may have varying experiences. Pent up nervous energy meets relief and may come pouring out in ways that they (and you) don’t expect. It might be that they don’t know quite know how to regulate the joy they feel so it feels wild. Again, big feelings are OK – it’s our privilege to be alongside.
3. Acknowledge your feelings
If you’re really honest, does it matter to you what your children get at GCSE – if so, why? Is any of the answer to that question potentially unhealthy or unhelpful for those you’re raising?
Equally, does your experience cause you to devalue academic success when your child could and should excel and may do with some more encouragement from you? Identify those things in yourself first, work through those feelings so you can help your children with theirs.
It’s my daily (sometimes hourly!) prayer as a parent that God would give me wisdom. I need wisdom to know how to lead and walk with my child through this season. What a privilege and what a responsibility.
Thank God for their purpose, their uniqueness and calling that goes FAR beyond GCSE results whatever they are, whenever they’re attained. Thank God for His declaration over us that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that He has prepared in advance for us to do. Pray for our children that He would capture their hearts and lead them into all He has for them.
5. Gain perspective
Tell stories – your own, people you know, characters from the bible – that illustrate what my Mum referred to as ‘life’s rich tapestry’. Stories of people who worked hard and overcame, those who faced adversity and yet succeeded, stories of people who failed and changed direction only to find what they were made to do, stories of people who are brilliant in their sphere, men and women who pushed boundaries and pioneered because of their brilliant brains, and stories of people who felt all hope was gone only to declare, as the Psalmist so often does, ‘and yet will I praise’.
When the richness and diversity of stories becomes commonplace in our homes, our perspective shifts to become more like the heavenly one that God has and invites us to view our lives from. What a gift to be able to give our children.