Education Quandary

'My son is halfway through his GCSEs and working well, but what can I do to keep him "on the boil" over the holiday period?
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

What a caring and sensible lot Quandary readers are. E-mails have poured in on this question, almost all of them saying to leave the boy alone; let him have his holiday; why feel you have to keep him boiling away like this?

They clearly reflect a growing frustration among parents and pupils with our overburdened exam system, which marches children through more formal testing than just about any other youngsters in the world.

Your son will have already sat school tests at seven years old, 11 years old and 14 years old, and now faces a further six years of exams if he plans to go on through A-levels and higher education. A few students skip lightly through this regime, but for many it means a childhood and adolescence made leaden by the relentless grind of "getting through the curriculum", and punctuated by episodes of tension and anxiety.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to ignore the problem of the long summer break (during which students forget things), immediately followed by an endless autumn term (when they get too tired to care). Schools that have switched to shorter terms, with regular, shorter breaks, report that this seems to work much better. One school in Kent switched five years ago, and says that its percentage of pupils getting good GCSE results has jumped from 43 to 79 per cent, and much of this is due to the change in its school year.

There are some things that GCSE students have to do over the summer - the groundwork for their geography and home economics coursework, for example. It also wouldn't hurt them to dilute the popular holiday diet of television and computer games by reading the odd book, visiting the occasional museum, getting outside and doing something active, and, as the summer draws to a close, spending an hour or two browsing through the work they are returning to, to get their brains in gear again.

Other than that, as so many readers say: leave them alone and let them enjoy their time off!

Readers' advice

Your correspondent reminds me of those parents who take children out of school for a term-time holiday to some fascinating foreign location, and then demand heaps of work for them to do while there... Good grief, at the risk of sounding adolescent - duh, holiday: look it up!

Dinah Ellis, Dorset

One way to ensure that maths and science understanding does not slip (areas identified as needing particular attention at the moment) is to introduce your children to some high quality e-learning resources such as, launched earlier this year and now freely available to parents, teachers and students via the e-Learning Foundation ( www.elearning, and the London Grid for Learning ( Skoool is free to log on to for students nationwide, and gives parents a way to keep their children's minds active and ensure they are prepared for their final year.

Amanda Benwell, Surrey

Give the guy a break! I am doing my GCSEs this year, and the last few weeks have been very stressful. Once they are over (this afternoon), I plan to relax and enjoy myself. If your son has been working "well", he certainly deserves some time off. In my year, we have been preparing for exams for two years, and once the new term starts we will be plunged into AS-levels, and will not even have the luxury of one year without public exams, as previously. I can only say that I think you are very heartless if you want to make him work over the summer. Certainly, my parents would not dream of trying to "keep me on the boil".

LUCY SEROCOLD, 16, Putney, London SW15

Next week's quandary

Our daughter goes to our lovely village primary. It is not a church school, but they pray a Christian prayer three times a day. We are non-religious and feel uneasy about this. We want her to learn about religions and would not withdraw her from RE, but actively praying is different. What can we do? And do we have any rights?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 5 July, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser