Education Quandary: 'Shouldn't schools provide timetables of GCSE coursework deadlines so that parents can nag their children?'

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

I understand where this parent is coming from. Her son seems to neither know nor care when his work is due, and when he misses his deadlines, and she rings his teachers about this, she discovers that the deadlines that have been set aren't hard-and-fast deadlines at all, and she is panicking unnecessarily. What, she wants to know, is a parent to do?

In one way, the answer is: nothing at all. At this stage of their school life, pupils should be learning to take responsibility for their own work, and what better lesson could there be than missing an important deadline and discovering that there are serious consequences to this? Babying children well into adulthood is a scourge of modern life and one reason that society is now awash with overgrown, middle-aged adolescents.

But this isn't about education, this is about results. Children need good exam results to get on in life, and parents feel that they must help them. Equally, teachers need good results to show the world that they are doing an effective job in their classrooms, and therefore badly need their pupils to get their work in on time.

On that basis, it makes complete sense for GCSE teachers to ensure that parents understand the timetable for their children's coursework, and to enlist their help in making sure that it gets done.

As for the false deadlines, they are clearly a way of trying to frighten the little blighters into getting on with it, but whether they are the most effective way of doing this is debatable.

Readers' advice

Speaking as a head of English, I can tell you that in Year 10, pupils complete five pieces of coursework, most of which have "rough" and "final" draft deadlines. Therefore, each pupil has 10 deadlines to meet. We have seven Year 10 classes, but teachers do not all teach the coursework in the same order (or we would need, for example, 180 copies of Romeo and Juliet). Therefore, across seven Year 10 classes there are 70 deadlines – should I publish them all? Would you get the letter if it was sent home with your child? If your child's school doesn't use a homework planner, then you have grounds for complaint. But if they do, you should start paying closer attention to it, since it is where the deadlines should be recorded by pupils. As for final deadlines not being final: that's down to results pressure from head teachers and the Government. Most teachers long for the days when a final deadline meant just that, but as it is most of us are very accommodating if there is a chance that the work will come in.

Jonathan Deakin, Warrington

My children have to record deadlines in a homework diary. Have you asked your child about this? Schools shouldn't feel they have to communicate with parents, who are not the ones doing GCSEs after all.

Carina McDermott, Portsmouth

Helpfully, our school sends out a coursework calendar at the start of the school year in September. Can't other schools do the same?

Linda Nolan, Oxfordshire

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary, Our seven-year-old daughter is bright and interested in everything. She can come across as precocious because her language and her questions are ahead of her years, and I have started to feel that her teacher resents this and is putting her down in class. She seems very critical of our daughter, who is no longer enjoying school. What can we do?

Send your replies, or any quandaries that you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address on your message. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries can be found on www.hilarywilce.com, where they can be searched by topic.

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