Since my ExamAid letter was published on 9 March (Your Views, EDUCATION), the proposed organisation has become a reality. We are now a working group with a growing membership, and we're looking for opportunities to make our case and acquire moral and material support.
The impetus for ExamAid came from two exhaustive research projects looking at how students prepare for GCSE and A-level exams. Sixty Year 11 students were interviewed on a one-to-one basis for the first survey, and an extraordinary clutch of domestic problems was revealed, including deaths in families and long-standing illness affecting the students. Other problems included the continuing illness of a relative, which connected with questionnaire evidence suggesting that "having to look after a sick relative" was a problem for 12 per cent of all students.
Other crisis situations occurred due to a father's redundancy; divorcing parents; a student having left home; a student moving between parents who had split, and another where the student was out of the house for most of the time because of continuing parental arguments. A results-based analysis showed that the students with the poorest results had the most problems, illustrating an impact on schools - even though schools are not culpable and are often pressed to find the time or resources to help.
For the A-level project, the research subject and the methods used were different. Some of the students with part-time jobs were being exploited by employers and forced to continue working long hours regardless of exam commitments. In many of these cases, there was clearly a need for a support system for the students, and codes of practice for employers.
Domestic problems such as bereavement, divorce or parental tension, the effects of redundancy or moving jobs were all prevalent.
These situations are virtually impossible for exam boards to quantify for "dispensation" purposes. What grade difference can be allocated for the death of a grandparent, and how can this be compared to a divorce or separation? Given that, sadly, some will abuse the system, what possible documentary proof can sensitively be asked for in such situations?
The alternative, of repeating the whole process, is not favoured by many students, because time is lost and, as one boy whose father had recently died expressed it, "if I get off now, I may never get back on again". This means a greater imperative to help students through the crucial year.
ExamAid can provide:
n Helplines, staffed by qualified education professionals with a minimum of four years' experience and operating out of school hours, which is when most problems are encountered.
n A website which will provide correspondence advice and student support, to include those who are ill at home or in hospital and student carers.
n A newsletter/magazine which supplies information and resources to schools, and can foster new research on the problems.
Our early recruits have included Alan McMurray, an Ofsted inspector and an ex-head teacher who is concerned about the predominance of the results mentality. …