School closures and cancelled exams are a big deal for all pupils, but they’re likely to be especially distressing for students preparing for GCSEs and A-levels in England or National 5s and Highers in Scotland. They will already have begun revision, and many will be anxious about putting their lives on hold.
That’s why looking after teenagers’ mental health during the coronavirus pandemic is the first priority for parents. The uncertainty over how exams will be replaced will put a strain on many students.
Polly Davies, who has home-schooled five children on and off over 12 years, took her daughter out of school before the enforced closures.
Some UK schools looking at unregulated exams to replace GCSEs and A-Levels
“She was so anxious and upset,” she said. “She needs to not think about it, which I know is really hard, but she’s been doing other things to take her mind off it and not just obsess.”
Davies has encouraged her daughter to take a walk, read a book or chat to friends. Studying can resume later.
Parents should start by getting a copy of the curriculum from their school and finding out what resources are available. Since teenagers are studying more advanced material, parents should be realistic about what they can achieve during this period – especially if they are working themselves.
The core message from education experts is that structure is essential. This does not have to exactly replicate the school day, but there should be clear boundaries between learning and relaxing.
Amit Gadhia, the director of Lotus Tutors, recommended sticking to the 45-minute lessons used in schools: “The attention span of even the most genius pupil is not more than that.”
He said students should not be in one-on-one lessons for more than four hours a day, since these require higher concentration levels than in a classroom of 30 pupils. The rest of the time can be used for sports or creative activities.
Some schools and colleges will be in a position to offer more support than others. Tom Coles, an English teacher at Portree high school in Skye, said he planned to deliver an adapted but more or less full remote-learning curriculum through Google for Education.
For schools and colleges offering remote learning, his main message was for parents to support their children in the same way they would normally: “Get them to complete their work, and stay motivated and connected,” he said.
If in doubt, parents can fill in any gaps with simple but stimulating activities. All students should be reading a book for an hour a day, for example.
A good way to motivate young people is to focus on why they are doing a given task. “Try and explain the purpose and value of what they’re learning. This will be different for every family, but is so much better than the answers ‘Because I said so!’,” said Jack Pannett, who runs a children’s coaching service.
As the days of social distancing turn into weeks, teens may struggle with the lack of social interaction. Parents can encourage their children to speak to friends by phone rather than messaging, or to organise sports in the park, which is currently acceptable under government guidelines if they maintain distance.
The lure of social media and video games may also be hard for teenagers to resist, so setting limits may be helpful. “Do as you do on weekends and school holidays. We shouldn’t be telling parents how to discipline their children but I would honestly say less screen time,” Samatar said.
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