Life’s not all about exams…


Life’s not all about exams. It’s probably strange to hear that statement from me. After all PET-Xi is renowned for its exceptional courses and interventions all aimed at ensuring children and young people gain qualifications and reach their full potential in life.

So while of course I recognise the importance of examination success, I also know absolutely that it won’t get you far without other life skills – particularly developing the character trait of resilience. I’m therefore delighted to note the recent growing swell of opinion that ‘character education’ matters.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan have both made recent speeches highlighting their belief that character traits such as persistence, resilience, self discipline and the ability to work with others, are key in preparing young people for success at school and in their adult life in the working world.

Their conclusion is backed up by numerous studies that have shown that strong character attributes correlate with educational attainment, good attendance and positive attitudes towards school.

I’ve been thinking of this particularly now because we are just ahead of the long summer holidays when those children moving from primary to secondary school, or from secondary school to university or an apprenticeship, may be very worried about their future.

Although some will be concerned about the new academic work ahead of them, many will have more social and emotional concerns about coping in the new world they are about to enter – be that ‘big school’ , university, or the workplace.

Armed with the trait of resilience, they will be fine. Resilient young people will go on to become grounded adults, better able to succeed in the world. After all our lives are always full of change – we move house, jobs, get new partners, become parents – so we need to have coping strategies. Self sufficiency is essential – it’s a transferable skill which will stand them in good stead as they face unfamiliar situations in the future.

But let’s not minimise the worry that the primary to secondary transfer can cause today’s 11 year-olds. It’s the first big change for many children and while some will make the move with friends and classmates from primary school; others may not know anyone in their new school. Many will have the additional challenge of English as a Foreign Language to contend with.

Primary and secondary teachers work hard to make the journey from Year 6 to Year 7 as smooth as possible. We’ve also played our part with our expert ‘Summer Transition’ programmes. But in addition to these more formal transition activities, parents and teachers can make a real difference by keeping an eye out for unusual behaviours.

Most children will share the common worries about their move, such as making friends, dealing with a variety of new teachers and additional subjects and finding their way around, as well as to and from, school.

But there will be some children whose worries go beyond what could be termed as ‘normal’. Look out for unusual behaviour such as becoming withdrawn, or exhibiting more challenging behaviour, or even truancy – these children may need especially focused additional support.

Again if they are resilient, it is easier for children and young people to find help. There’s a wealth of support available – children just need to find the strength of character to ask.

I believe that a sharp focus on confidence and building a positive mental attitude is the way to go. Essentially you need to inspire self belief and get them to feel confident that they are capable of tackling even the most difficult-looking situations, provided they use the right mindset.

Young people today are under incredible pressure. They worry about school, relationships, their job prospects and futures all at a time when they face huge hormonal changes and their teenage brain is at a critical stage of development.  Generally teenagers are not so good at stepping back and putting things into perspective.

So they have a lot to deal with and our job as parents and teachers must be to get the message across that academic success is not the be all and end all. It’s better to produce happy, well-balanced individuals who are ‘life-ready’ before they are ‘exam-ready’. Exam success is great, but remember there are plenty of alternative paths to take.

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