As GCSE season approaches it's vital to re-engage disaffected learners
How can schools help those pupils who are disaffected with education and struggling to revise and get to grips with their fast approaching GCSE examinations? Here Fleur Sexton, a former teacher and now joint managing director of PET-Xi, leading provider of intensive results-based interventions for young people at risk of not achieving their academic potential, shares her thoughts on the most useful methods of support
Spring is in the air – which means it is revision time! Supermarkets and stationers are full of revision charts, flash cards, highlighter pens and sticky notes as GCSE students across the country pore over their books, trying to ensure they are prepared for their forthcoming exams.
But what about those pupils who are disaffected with education and struggling to revise and get to grips with their fast approaching examinations? Failure to achieve a C in Maths and English at Year 11 immediately limits a young person’s choices and future potential.
My team and I work in partnership with schools day in, day out, providing practical support to young people around the country and we see on a daily basis how it makes a valuable difference to their life chances.
Our starting point is always to ensure pupils have mastered the basics – and, if not, to work like mad to provide this vital scaffolding because it’s absolutely crucial to all future success. Maths in particular can be difficult because it is such a linear subject and those who have missed out on the fundamental points are often unable to follow enough of the subsequent lessons to engage. Sometimes a couple of days' absence is enough to leave a significant gap in knowledge, but equally a session where young people have failed to grasp a concept can also leave them floundering in subsequent lessons.
When it comes to revision, the first thing to do is break the task down into manageable chunks. Yes teachers will have gone over the necessary skills to help them arrange and organise a revision programme – but that doesn’t mean they will have remembered!
We have to acknowledge that unfortunately some young people in modern Britain lead chaotic lives with difficulties in their domestic and social situations. These youngsters often suffer from a sense of bewilderment and simply don’t know where to start – they may have bigger issues to think about than their English and maths GCSEs, which simply won’t seem that important to them.
So always look at any specific barriers that may stop a child revising or completing their homework – for example they may have no appropriate quiet space available at home, or have a routine that precludes it. But you may be able to help them spot other opportunities – help them use dead time, like a bus ride to school each day, and suggest they revise then, using flashcards they can make themselves and carry in their pockets. Revision does not need to be one size fits all – it’s possible to make it relevant to an individual child and their circumstances. Another useful idea here is to test out different ways of getting through to them using their own learning style – anything from colour coding and pictures to mnemonics.
One more vital, but frequently overlooked, factor is to help young learners develop resilience. A resilient child will be more successful in sticking at revision - realising that small failures are not a problem and that success is all about turning up and not giving up!
Peer support makes a difference too. Encourage pair or group work where one student has to work out possible answers, explain their reasoning, record it - perhaps as a teacher might do on an interactive whiteboard - and replay it. This has proved an excellent way of tapping into the skills of the whole class, as students offer suggestions or correct one another if they do not use the right mathematical language or are not sufficiently precise.
Finally, be sure to help learners maintain a sense of perspective so that exams don’t take over in a negative way – a holistic approach including good nutrition, exercise and even trips to the cinema and X-Box time are also essential elements of any good revision plan. Life is precious and every part must be enjoyed, rather than these teenage years becoming stressful and full of drudgery. Protecting and maintaining mental health is more important than getting good exam results at any cost. It is also a valuable lesson for later life.
By helping young learners to be clear about exactly what is expected of them, providing all the support that they need and focusing on breaking down their barriers, we can ensure they are as successful as possible in their all important exams this summer.
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