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Really bad parent's evening

(28 Posts)
stellarossa Fri 13-Dec-13 12:34:54

Having struggled to get my son through GCSEs (in the end, they were not great, but not terrible either) I thought he was getting down to work in 6th form and all seemed to be going well. However last night at a parent's eve I got such a shock (as did he) when we found out he has U in Maths and Physics (but A* in computing). We think he can turn the physics around, but if he doesn't make a massive improvement in maths by mid-Jan they will throw him off the course. He is very immature, struggles to focus in class and tends to sit with mates and mess around. At 16 he really should be taking more responsibility for his learning and his teachers are clearly pretty angry with him.

I'm rather exhausted as a single parent, coming home from a demanding job to then have to intensively supervise his work, test him, check what he is doing. I wake up in the night worrying and am really tired out emotionally and physically. I don't know whether I should let him fail and that might be the 'wake up call', or to continue to try and help him. He's devastated and seems really lost. His teachers say he should be getting Bs or even As. I'm not sure if I'm looking for advice or just someway to try and reduce the stress and anxiety I feel. I don't have family and my friends children are all high achievers so I don't feel I can talk to them about this.

ancientbuchanan Fri 13-Dec-13 12:56:57

Not there ( yet) but didn't want to read and run.

If his teachers said at the same time that he should be capable of so much more, and he is looking devastated, then I would draw up a contract with him.
Because it sounds as though it would be worth it.

A timetable to ensure he does his homework and refuses this term's work. Timetable in his room and somewhere you can see it too.

No Electronic wizardry if any sort, tv included , until he has met his timetable

Agreement not to fool around in class, difficult for him but proof he is becoming an adult

In return,

You will be supportive, find out from his teachers where his particular weaknesses are, and if they report a change in attitude and attainment by x, you will do y.

It win be hard all round. But it might be the making of him. I don't think leaving young men to fail works, have seen it not work before.

But you might have to say he should not work in hid room. semi camping on Ds's bed, increasingly, doing my emails, while he works.

Palika Fri 13-Dec-13 13:11:29

I could have written the post myself - more or less - only my son is in year 10 rather than 12. (DS had a level 7 in math last year, which translates into an A or even A* - this term he down to a C due to chatting and cannot be bothered to show his work - so same picture: intelligent but can't get their act together)

I do a mixture of mild supervising (because I refuse to police him intensively as I have done when he was younger) and confronting him with what his future will be like if he carries on in the way he does now (he would not be able to attend 6th form)

Specifically, this is what we do:
- as the poster above suggested we have a contract that includes every rule and consequence we have in the house

- DS works in the kitchen, so that we can keep an eye on him. He shows me what he has written but I do not read it, I just comment on the neatness and volume and structure etc.

- On the fridge are two pictures - one of a successful engineer (his goal) and the other of a car mechanic (what he probably end up with if he does not get his act together). I also do not mince my words describing what I imagine his days will be like if he goes down that road (not being horrible or denigrating of this work - just the sheer facts)

- I also offer DS some coaching about learning techniques - how to effectively revise etc. Astonishingly, he is actually very receptive to it.

- I taught DS how to visualise his goal of becoming an engineer and how he will get many As and A*s on the way. (he likes that)

stellarossa Fri 13-Dec-13 15:12:17

Thanks, that's really helpful from both of you - and also to know that others are facing the same issues. I will sit him down tonight. Maybe if we can get a plan in place I'll start feeling less anxious, especially at 3am!

Palika Fri 13-Dec-13 15:23:16

I also discovered with DS that he is afraid of getting good marks because his friends might be envious and ditch him.

This is a really strong fear in him, which I do not really know how to deal with as I have that fear a little bit myself. (I have also actually experienced that this fear can be very justified)

Cerys88 Fri 13-Dec-13 17:35:13


Been there! First off, please look after yourself. Make sure that you have time for yourself and that you all that you can to get a good night's sleep.

It's a massive leap from GCSE to AS level study and for some it's such that things do go belly up during the first A level year. Your DS may be able to pull things round, especially if school is supportive (can they help him to develop appropriate study skills/do they have such support mechanisms in place?). If things, though, don't go according to plan, do remember that your DS is still very young. One of mine is re-taking the AS year (similar scenario to yours and in fact similar subjects) is from predicted (and I have to say actual) very low grades/fails, parents evenings at his new school (he wanted to move) came with glowing reports about predicted As and Bs. He just needed that year, I suppose and he needed to find out for himself that the leap is such that study methods need to be seriously adjusted.

I do know what you mean, too, about the high achievers around you. I'd try to ignore them. Good luck to you and your DS.

Palika Fri 13-Dec-13 18:15:32

I also have all these high-achievers around me - it annoys me greatly. DS has 9 cousins and all of them are extremely high achieving academically, in sport and in music.

I always considered myself as a non-envious person - NOT ANY MORE angryangryangry

amothersplaceisinthewrong Fri 13-Dec-13 18:21:33

I too had a son who messed around for the whole of year 12, got a wake up call when his As's were not good enough. This was in the days when you could resit ad nauseam. The failure was the wake up call, he worked really really hard in Y13, did the resits and went from D to A, and a place at his first choice Uni. . I don't think that in the sixth form parents should have to intensively police homework.

lljkk Fri 13-Dec-13 19:04:12

sorry, Q to OP: if they kick off because of bad math+physics result will he have to quit computing, too? Seems wrong when he's doing well at one subject.

hench Fri 13-Dec-13 19:13:35

A levels don't seem to suit everyone - might it be worth looking at apprenticeships? Dc I know that have taken this route (some with very good GCSEs) have thrived - really found the motivation to work hard again and of course they love being paid!

AlexTurnersmicropone Fri 13-Dec-13 19:26:33

My son, now nearly 20, struggled all the way through school, behaviour and motivation, he turned himself around in year 11 and got a decent set of GCSE results, went to sixth form, hated it, messed around and totally bombed, ended up with three E's, he was lucky to get that to be honest. He walked straight into an apprenticeship and is now doing brilliantly, he showed a lot of flair and was offered a full time job and is continuing to thrive and making career progress. In hindsight A levels and school just weren't for him.

stellarossa Fri 13-Dec-13 19:43:29

lljkk - I hope it won't come to it, but I think if he gets kicked out of maths he can still do Computing… I hope so anyway as he's doing so well.

I do wonder if A levels are for him, he's the kind go child who just wants to do what he's interested in and not much else. In many ways it was worse in GCSEs when he had to study poetry and Spanish and the like…. but I do think there is merit in having an open mind and giving things a go even if you don't think you'll be interested, and I wish he'd do that.

I'm very envious of friend's whose children are self-motivated independent learners. But then again I look at some of the posts here about depression, teenage pregnancy and self-harming and know how very lucky I am to only have this to worry about.

MrsTwgtwf Sat 14-Dec-13 00:35:04

Could you tell him he'll have more fun and success in a computing job in the future if he gets his Maths A level? And can you really press the teachers to help him in every way possible with his maths? I bet he can do it if someone explains it patiently to him (speaking from experience with geek ds). No chance of a tutor, I suppose? There are lots of websites to do with maths, and some very helpful MNer maths teachers you might ask on the Education boards - Noblegiraffe springs to mind - I'm sure she would help with advice.

Maths is very very hard if you lose the plot. You just have to get back on the train, but someone has to help you imo.

With ds what worked was: increase his motivation; and stop the despair.

ancientbuchanan Sat 14-Dec-13 23:32:24

Have a look also at Tony Buzan's work on studying. Mostly for younger kids but might be helpful.

specialsubject Sun 15-Dec-13 17:35:04

remember that friends who ditch you because you don't waste your time in class are deadbeats. Not worth the effort.

teach him not to be a sheep and to make the most of his education before it is too late.

whodunnit Sun 15-Dec-13 17:42:22

palika & ancient, you have some really good ideas. Do you have any links to any threads that go into this sort of advice in more detail? I could really use this advice for my yr 10 dd.

Bubbless Sun 15-Dec-13 18:02:02

I was this person a few years ago, failing and not really knowing what to do about it. My mum would always ask me questions to get me thinking about a subject (in your case maths) and then try and relate it back to something I enjoyed. My horror subject was geography and every now and again in the car or at the checkout she would randomly ask how many countries we would have to go to to get to America, or ask what religion the majority of people were in certain countries, but instead of it just being a quiz she would go on to talk about what it must be like to live there, or how long it would take to drive/ fly there.... Eventually I got interested in these things too and studied without really knowing it!! I know it's not amazingly helpful, but maybe another way to think about helping? (I got an A in the end ;))

flow4 Thu 19-Dec-13 05:26:04

I think school, GCSEs and A levels just aren't suited to some kids - particularly those who learn through doing, rather than sitting still and listening. Our education system has an strong focus on academic study and exams, and many teenagers under-achieve because of it; really, they are being failed by a system which isn't offering them appropriate learning opportunities. It makes me really sad that for many, the failure of schools to meet their needs is twisted and presented as their failure: their self-confidence plummets, and there can be other problems too.

I'd say it's really essential for parents to recognise that if their child is under-achieving in GCSE or A level subjects, this does not necessarily mean that s/he stupid or lazy; it may mean the curriculum is not suitable for them. It's particularly important to ask yourself whether your child is a hands-on, practical 'do-er' and 'active learner'. If so, they are probably being let down by the system, rather than letting themselves (or you) down. Their already-damaged self-confidence will be further damaged if you respond as if it were their 'fault'. And really, self-confidence is much more important than exam results - to life in general as well as academic success.

FE colleges can be the answer for some. They are very used to 'picking up the pieces' and re-engaging young people who have been disengaged by school. They offer qualifications - particularly BTECs - which are rigorous and challenging, but much more practical, and suited to 'active' learners.

Stella, you can help your son best by supporting him to keep his self-belief. Help him see this as a challenge he can solve, rather than a situation that disempowers him. To be a successful learner, he must feel he has some control over his success. For a start, help him believe that if his teachers think he could get higher grades, then he must be bright. He may be feeling like a stupid failure ATM, and he can't succeed unless he believes he is clever enough to do it. Then, help him problem-solve: is he underachieving in maths because he's not working hard enough? Or because he's not interested? Or because he has missed some crucial info? Or because the teaching methods don't suit him? Each of these different issues has (a) different possible solution(s), which you can help him find: e.g. Work harder; practice study skills; do something different; find another course...

I also want to give you some hope, Stella. My own son underachieved badly in his GCSEs (in y8 he was predicted 10/11 A*-Bs; he got one B and 4 Cs). He them spent an awful year messing around feeling bad about himself, becoming more disengaged and getting into trouble. I worked hard to keep him on track and keep his self-esteem and sense of aspiration alive. Now, two years on, he is finishing a BTEC, predicted distinctions and merits, and applying to universities to do something he's really interested in. smile A lot of those other 'high achieving' kids are on a sausage-machine to university too, but don't actually know or care much about the courses they'll end up on. Ultimately, I feel like my son's chances of success are at least as good as theirs, despite his school disasters!

Palika Thu 19-Dec-13 09:35:37

how can one get 10 or 11 GCSEs when there are only 8 subjects?

My DS has only 8 subjects and there was never an option to have more??? (I think others have even less because he chose triple science). He also did his German GCSE last year (and now can't be bothered with French sad)

flow4 Thu 19-Dec-13 10:24:27

Our local high school routinely enters kids for 11 GCSEs, pal.

hellsbells99 Thu 19-Dec-13 10:47:02

stella - my DD is also in year 12 and doing physics. She is finding it very hard (as is her very clever friend). She has had 2 tests and the first one she got a D in. Since then I have printed off past papers/questions and she has looked at tutorials online - Khan Academy etc. She is now understanding it a lot more. But a lot of it is maths (which she is doing ok at as they did GCSE a year early and spent year 11 doing extension algebra work ready for AS). It may be worth finding him a tutor asap - you could probably share one with one of his friends to keep the costs down. A few of DDs friends are struggling with the jump. School have put on extra sessions for maths and sciences though and she goes to physics, chemistry and maths 'clubs' which are timetabled after school.

LeBFG Thu 19-Dec-13 11:03:41

Your son, OP, is struggling either because:

a/ A levels are not for him (or at least the ones he's chosen)


b/ he's finding the transition hard (extremely common with physics)

Unfortunately, these are difficult to distinguish.

His mucking around tells me he is still in GCSE mindset - later in the year, certainly by next year, he will find the class will turn around and exclude him if he continues to play the clown. At the very least if he hopes to progress (and he really is suitable for A levels) he needs to develop independent learning skills: he needs to do homework under his own steam, search out teachers for extra help/explanations, identify areas he's struggling with and figuring out how to address them (textbooks, other pupils, internet resources, teachers).

If I were in your situation, I would be making it very clear that I am not going to drag him through 2 years of A level (but them I'm a nasty sink-or-swim sort).

lookatmycameltoe Thu 19-Dec-13 11:15:41

I could have written your post.

I haven't got much time so I'll be brief. I have a 16 year old DS. We gave up on 'academic' further education.

He is now doing construction at college and loving it.
I'm a bit shocked by the PP who think being a car mechanic is a career of ridicule, so much so they put a picture on the fridge of what you don't want to be!

All I want for my son is to be in a job that makes him fulfilled and to be happy. My DS has lost two friends to suicide in the past 6 months, there are worse things than having a menial job.

He loves brick laying and is really good at it. He made a beautiful wine holder in carpentry and the pride on his face when he gave it to me.
He is an A student without the ability to study in the classroom, and that is OK. Absolutely OK.

Palika Thu 19-Dec-13 13:54:18

if you read my post carefully I said no such thing. (car mechanic being ridiculous). It's just not what my DS wants at all (or so he says) - yet he is heading for it.

I have put pictures on the fridge to emphasise this message because I know DS responds better to pics rather than 'stark warnings of upset mum'. It's not meant to denigrate any professions but to bring home the fact that it is his decision and that he can only reach his goal if he gets his act together. Please do not take this personally.

(By the way, it's working - the other day he was moaning again about his homework and I only opened the fridge door, so that he could see the pictures. He gave a tortured laugh and knuckled back down to work again smile)

chocoluvva Thu 19-Dec-13 14:01:08

A very similar situation here last year stellarossa with my DD. She wanted to apply for a very competitive course for next year but just would not get down to doing much study despite having many high-achieving friends (and being bright). I worried terribly too but also questioned the wisdom of TRYING (sigh) to put on too much pressure.

Your DS's communication about the peer pressure to avoid seeming to be studious is hopefully helpful. If that really is one of the main reasons for his poor performance then you can work at building his self-esteem, being supportive and loving - with your words and behaviour generally - to hopefully encourage him to make good choices (ie study more).

I went to a short course for parents of teenagers which ran during the weeks before and during DD's exams. Part of our homework involved asking our teens which of a few things they most valued/or wanted to have from their parents. DD had no hesitation in choosing the 'Encouraging Words' option and added 'But I know you don't want to be too encouraging at the moment because you think I'll become complacent and not study enough'!

IMO the advice to get a maths tutor is very good. Many tutors are happy to do fortnightly or less frequent sessions. My DD had a few shared sessions with a maths tutor and raved about how helpful she was. Apparently, she whizzed through DD and her friend's questions efficiently and advised what not to bother so much with.

Re your DS not wanting to bother with subjects he's not especially interested in - it might help to try to get him to view the syllabus he's covering now as a means to an end - the end being getting to do the specialist areas he likes. (I'm sorry if you've already had that conversation with him and this advice is irrelevant).

Take hope from knowing that lots of pupils who have coasted along do knuckle down when the exams are looming and do okay in the end. Try not to worry about this (I know that's easy to SAY) - there's more than one route into uni (eg HNC and HND's). Take care of yourself.

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