Page 8 - Independent Schools Magazine
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Our occasional feature in which heads and other senior educationalists are invited to comment on a proposition...
Forty or  fty years ago - long before the internet, before social media, before ‘mindfulness’ became a fashionable buzzword - students feeling the pressure in the run up to exams were given a straightforward message:
‘If you want to do well...
revise well, relax well, eat well, sleep well’.
Could such a simple, common-sense sentiment assist today’s stressed students?
Mark Ronan, head, Pocklington School, Yorkshire:
The simple answer is yes: such a common- sense sentiment can help today’s stressed students. Modern
exam advice may have morphed to embrace an internet-driven, more competitive world, but essentially, it’s based on the same principles.
Schools do spend more time offering students stress-busting exam advice than we did 40-50 years ago, but that’s because far more emphasis is now placed on results. The stakes, and resultant pressure, are higher; however simple, clear advice remains a beacon to focus on through the fog of exams.
Good exam preparation is all about balance, being organised to assign enough time to work as well as relax. A good revision timetable helps students feel in control, which is in itself an effective stress reliever.
Factoring in suf cient fun, food, exercise and sleep (with a screen- free wind-down), is vital. Relaxing
Helen Jeys, head, Alderley Edge School for Girls, Cheshire:
“Wasn’t life different forty or  fty years ago! However,
this straightforward message of ‘revise well, relax well, eat well, sleep well’ is one that could assist today’s stressed students – but I don’t think that our current advice to students now is so different.
well might involve a session on the X Box or catching up on social media, as long as the emphasis is on balance and moderation.
Unwinding might also involve stopping and concentrating on the moment - pausing to close our eyes and focus on our breathing to distract from anxiety - is one
of the most natural stress relievers around.
One additional, and equally straightforward, message I’d
add to the advice above is to communicate well. Maintaining
a close and open relationship between students, teachers and parents is a real focus in our school; and particularly important at exam time.
Students have to know they can go back to teachers as many times as necessary to understand each topic and discuss any concerns. Parents, more than ever in these busy times, must also be gently reminded to keep communication channels open – and to know when to step back.
I think that our current message is just a development or an evolution from this sentiment. Indeed, although our current message may involve mindfulness (although hardly a buzzword when it has its roots in ancient Buddhist practice) our more sophisticated approach, perhaps, is one that is necessary due to the different challenges faced by students today but it is still based on how we can relax well.
Kevin Fear, head, Nottingham High School:
Both as a Headmaster but also as a parent of two children facing public exams this summer I feel that
it is so important to stress that
there should be a good balance in preparing for important exams. I completely agree that there needs to be an application of good common sense. It makes sense to start
early and ensure that pupils have a well-organised plan but as a parent one has to be very aware of two things – one is that your children may not wish to revise in the way that you always did and the other is that there is a real need for them to balance their work with those things that they always enjoy doing. I also feel that the modern youngster can learn very effectively by doing their revision with a friend or group of friends – such collaborative learning is common-place in our schools so why should this change at revision time?
Personally I want to see students still playing sport, getting out and
Effective approaches to revision and good food and suf cient rest are, also, all a focus of current good wellbeing practice.
Therefore, I don’t think that this older sentiment is so different to what we do now; we just know more about the brain and its workings to ensure that our advice about how we go about effective revision and so forth, are as effective as possible. If I could add anything
also supporting each other through social media. Children are naturally sociable and the support that they get from each other cannot be under-estimated. Parents can help by giving them some space – the vast majority know that they have
to work hard and don’t need to be reminded constantly. You also need to be tolerant to revision spread all over the bedroom  oor. As long as there is space for them to sleep well then for the next few months the vacuuming might have to wait! It is, though, important that they don’t change their established sleeping routines at this time – ensuring that they get out of bed at the normal time during study leave is important as they will need to do so on the days of exams and we all know that routine helps here.
We all know that a well-balanced life is an important antidote to stress. I would go so far as to say that our teenagers are better at this than many adults, myself included! Perhaps it is to them that we should be turning to to advise the rest of us...
to this sentiment, it would be ‘and keep things in perspective!’
This was a message given to me during my ‘A’ levels and was the message I needed to ensure that I maintained a balanced approach to school work. I think that many students need to be reminded of the importance of this balance if they are going to approach public examinations in a balanced and proportionate way.”
8 Independent Schools Magazine
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