FERN BRITTON says ‘thank God my exam nightmare is over after 24 years’

Thank God my exam nightmare is finally over after 24 years! As a parent, that is, says FERN BRITTON, who’s suffered as much as her four children

  • Fern Britton said children have high work load and its difficult to cope with stress
  • Mother-of-four said we’re creating generation that will not know how to relax
  • This is the first year in 24 that none of her own children will go back to school 

This September will be the first September in 24 years that, as a family, we do not have the anxiety of going back to school — and I am throwing my hat in the air and dancing a little jig.

My boys both have their degrees and are out in the world. My elder daughter graduates in June, and our youngest finishes her A-levels in four weeks. Phew. Job done. The relief I feel for them, and us, is enormous. 

And not just because the school run is now a thing of the past. It is also the end of the long nights of homework, stress and tears.

My youngest hit the nail on the head when she told me that ‘school is trying too hard to make smart people and not caring about making good people. School is not enjoyable. They are not making us want to be there; they are making us all numbers and forgetting we are students.’

TV presenter Fern Britton, pictured, said schoolchildren are dealing with heavy workloads and asked how the brain of a young person copes with all the stress of having lots of homework 

OK, some of this is the opinion of all schoolchildren through the centuries, but I really believe the situation today is different. The workloads they are dealing with would fry the most mature brains.

As a child goes through secondary school, homework increases in length and difficulty until it becomes impossible for normal parents to help with. And homework rarely means one subject a night. Often it’s three or four — even before the build-up to GCSEs begins. How does the brain of a young person cope with all this stress?

Well, they’re given break times, naturally. A chance to walk across the school playing field with a friend, or read a book, have a drink and a snack. Very sensible, but only a few days ago we heard how school break times are shrinking. 

The lunch hour on certain days, at some schools, can be as short as 20 minutes. Any flustered office worker knows this isn’t enough time to prepare your brain for optimum learning.

The mother-of-four explained how as a child goes through secondary school, homework increases in length and difficulty (file picture)

Oh, and by the way, school holidays are not sacrosanct. At Easter, my daughter and some of her friends, went into school on two days to complete course work, and this coming half-term she will be in school for one day, too.

What we are teaching children is to survive daily crises of time. Great when things get tough; but ultimately we are creating a generation that will not know how to relax, how to build leisure time into their lives, how to spend time with their partners and their own children.

Basically, they will be even worse at work-life balance than their parents, and look where that has got us. So why are we allowing this to happen?

There is ample evidence of an epidemic of stress, with more and more children suffering from depression and anxiety. Each week, we read about young people who self-harm or take their own lives.

Teachers are not to blame.

Fern said we are creating a generation that will not know how to relax or how to build leisure time into their lives (file picture)

The vast majority I know are passionate about their subject and pupils. But they are at the coal face, stretched as tightly as any nurse or police officer.

Something has to give. And so their teaching time becomes secondary to the time they have to spend assessing and scoring their students, to meet Government targets.

And just to add to the confusion, we have a new exam grading system. We all understood A* to G, but now it’s become 9-1.

I asked former education secretary Michael Gove about it in an interview, and he said the old gradings were overinflated so a 9 is now higher than an A*.

That’s all very well, but now not only am I confused (have you tried to understand a recent school report?), many employers will be, too. Wouldn’t it have been possible just to create an A**?

I tweeted the other day about pupil pressure, and I know this is hardly a scientific survey, but among the many responses I received, not one person told a different story. Instead, I heard plenty of tales of administrative woe. 

The TV presenter said she encouraged her own children to unwind and have a minute to relax when they got home from school (file picture)

A teacher wrote: ‘We are teaching children that nothing is quite good enough. If they do well, they must do better, if they do better they must get better still . . . anxiety has reached epidemic proportions.’

While I understand that Ofsted reports are important, it is appalling that some schools leave out their under-performing children from Sats tests to make the figures look better. Firstly, this is discrimination of the worst kind. Secondly, schools are not businesses — and some of the lessons they teach are more important than anything on a syllabus.

At the first school my children attended, the head teacher welcomed all children whatever their ability and absolutely refused to leave them out of anything, no matter how it affected the rating.

On sports days, it was wonderful to see a child using a walking frame and another with Down’s syndrome being included in each race, with a little head start. As they crossed the finish line, they were swamped in hugs from their class mates. All of them — as well as the watery-eyed parent spectators — learnt something about team work and respect.

Fern said that she’s happy that for the first time in 24 years that her family will not have the anxiety of going back to school in September (file picture)

In Buckinghamshire where we live, we still have the 11-plus.

When the time came, despite the inevitable pressure, I refused to get tutors to coach my children in how to pass it. I explained to them that it was like the Hogwarts sorting hat. The exam was there to find the right school for them, not judge them on how ‘good’ they were.

So how should school be? Brains perform better when they are given the time to think. So how about just slowing things down a little? A more measured pace at school would bring creativity, confidence, productivity and, I suggest, better behaviour.

A cooked school lunch, eaten at a table with friends. Chatting. No phones. Teachers free of the burden of bureaucracy and homework-setting, with the time to plan lessons, teach, and maybe have a coffee in the staff room.

A proper break in the morning and the afternoon for teachers and pupils to get some fresh air or a bit of peace. And — yes, I’m going to say it — NO homework.

When my children came home from school, I’d encourage them to sit down for a bit and unwind. I wanted them to leave school on the doorstep. Have a hug, something to eat and time to relax.

It all sounds so simple and, yes I know, idealistic. But when you have watched each of your children slaving at the kitchen table over hours of homework, through tears and coffee until 4am, idealism is what you crave.

And, after all, children are at school for at least 11 years! Surely that’s time enough to give them a rounded education and the confidence to enter the world?

When I look at the young people I know, I feel so proud — and worried. I watch them, bent under the burden of learning, as they slalom around the potholes of body image, social media, sex and sexuality, anxiety, unrealistic goals, and fears about global warming, university debt and much more. Not to mention drugs, alcohol, and knife crime.

And at the end of it all, there’s little hope of owning their own home and no long-term employment guarantee. My heart cries for them.

Teaching is a noble profession that’s been undernourished for far too long. Give teachers the respect they deserve. Let them give our young people joy in learning — and have the satisfaction of sending well-rounded human beings into the world.

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