Sunday, 30 June 2013

Prepare for Clearing

The dust’s settling now after A2s and the received wisdom seems to be that it’s best to forget all about them until results day – Aug 15th.  After all, you can’t do anything about your results now, can you?

Well that’s kinda right except that there IS something you can do right now.

Three years ago, Pascoe was convinced that he had dropped not one, but two grades in his A2s.  It was a very competitive year since everybody wanted to get to university before tuition fees rose, so he thought he might have ruled himself out of both his firm and reserve offers. 

Instead of passively awaiting his fate on results day, he decided to make clearing (the process of matching unfilled places with students) work for him.  He identified universities whose standard offer was lower than those he’d accepted and emailed them. 
They told him whether their biology course was full or not and also pointed him in the direction of related courses with vacancies.  Several admired his initiative and asked for a copy of his CV and his UCAS personal statement and said they would look forward to hearing from him at clearing.

The result – it turned out that Pascoe’s A2 grades actually surpassed his offers, so he didn’t need clearing at all.  But if it hadn’t worked out so well, he had a good Plan B in place. 

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Saturday, 29 June 2013

Turn out

1 Corinthians, Chapter 13:
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Then I put the childish things into cardboard boxes and took them to the car-boot sale. 
That’s what we’re doing today – at the boot sale Pascoe, Perran and Carenza should make some spending money for their holidays and we shall clear some valuable storage space.

Young adults never seem to find the time to clear their clutter out of their parents’ houses, so I thought I’d catch my children before they realised they had become young adults. 

I have fired the first salvo in the junk storage war which I anticipate will now rage for many years!

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Friday, 28 June 2013

Morning After

So the morning after the prom, when everybody emerged, we had only three extra slumberers.  The plan had been that they slept for hours and hours in order to recover. Pascoe, however, in getting ready for his cycle ride to work in the next town, banged about enthusiastically, and greeted the prone corpses of partygoers cheerfully and loudly.  Having scrabbled in vain for a snooze button, any snooze button, before realising that it wasn’t an alarm going off, our guests gave in and toddled blearily to breakfast.

After all the stressed revision of the last few weeks, it was lovely to have some very relaxed teenagers hanging around, munching muesli at half-speed and discussing the previous night.  It sounds like a great evening  with a few absent faces much missed, a very welcome presence from the teachers, a couple of whom heroically stayed to oversee the end, which can be tricky (thanks to Katie).  Earlier, there had been the opening salvos of a girl-fight to settle old scores but it was quietly put a stop to by some sensible boys.  I guess they’re all growed up now. 

My main problem is that as the twins enter this leisurely world of socialising, I need to keep going with my work, not slow right down with them.  Never mind, I guess I’ll get a few good hours done before they ever get up in the morning.

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Thursday, 27 June 2013


 A last minute mercy dash to the shops meant that Carenza had a clutch bag and Sasoon a tie. I had enamelled Perran an orange earring and cufflinks to match Sarah’s dress.  Now we were ready for the pre-Prom.  Perran’s best friends were assembling at a similar party so he went on there.

About thirty of the twins’ friends arrived. My mission: to get some crisps and ham sandwiches down them to help them last the evening.

“Come on lads, line your stomachs.”

The lads in question looked at me as if I was mad – how would they be able to get roaring drunk if they “lined their stomachs”?

Everybody looked gorgeous and since the night was yet young, nobody was the worse for wear as they left for their minibuses and lifts (thank you, Karen).  But just as they were leaving a large spanner dropped in the works.  Hannah (beautiful in aquamarine) said “Where shall I leave my holdall?” 

“Are you staying over with Carenza?”

“No, with Beth,  but the minibus is dropping us off here at midnight, so I’ll collect it then.”


Perran and Carenza, it should be explained, were not coming back in the minibus but much later by taxi from a nightclub.  It being the middle of the working week, Nigel, Pascoe and I had thought we would leave the door on the latch and go to bed as normal.

But now we were awaiting delivery of a load of drunken teenagers at midnight.  We didn’t want to upset the neighbours.   I sat up in my nightie, ready to deal with them, feeling I would have more impact in hairnet and curlers and with a fag dangling out the corner of my mouth.

When they did arrive, however, they were loud, but cheerful and dispersed without my intervention.

The neighbours are probably still wondering whether it was Tescos or Ocado who messed up my late-night grocery delivery – “I ordered a can of beans, but they sent a van of teens.”

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013


Prom today.  Carenza has stuck with the green and gold frock.  As I suspected, there was somewhat of a hitch over shoes.  Carenza wanted gold heels and she wanted not to spend too much.  Inevitably, what we found was dozens of silver heels, scores of gold flats.

Year eleven pre-prom
Perran, on the other hand, was smug having purchased some bargain silver winkle-pickers; smug until he tried to find a tie to go with them.

I think I’ve been in more shops in the last week than I have in the past year.

And then there’s the itinerary and transport.  The pre-prom parties are local, the prom in another town, the post-prom night club in yet a third town (long story).  The alliances and groupings are changing from minute to minute as some wish to go on clubbing and others don’t.  I predict an interesting selection of people at breakfast tomorrow.  Or maybe nobody!

Oh, and we have a pre-prom gathering here.  I can’t wait to see the frocks, like amazing summer flowers in our garden, not to mention the handsome young men.  They won’t alight here for very long, then like butterflies they’ll be gone.

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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Loco Parentis

“A school concert, tonight?”

We thought we’d been through that final bout of pride as Perran played sax at the March concert.   Who knew that only two days after his exams finished, he would be sufficiently rehearsed to perform again?

But in fact, it turned out that for us the March concert had been the last – I was to be teaching and Nigel working away in Birmingham.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of performances that I have missed during my children’s school careers.  How could I be missing this last one?

But it seemed I was.

Because neither of Perran’s loco parents could make it, I sent Pascoe, Carenza and Sasoon in loco parentis.  They would support him.  He would not miss us.

But after I wound my class up at 9.30pm, I began to hope that I might just be able to run in to the concert and catch the finale.  I jogged home, picked up the car and dashed up there.  As I approached school, however, there were no cars lining the road - everybody had gone home. I bit my lip and drove back.

The concert-goers soon returned – Perran glowing from a good solo and a special farewell mention at the front, and the others congratulatory.   It had been a great evening for Perran, and that was the main thing.

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Monday, 24 June 2013


Perran had said that he would do this.  He would take the first day after the exams and sleep all the way through, punctuated only by dozing and the odd nap.  The fact that he had danced through the previous night until nearly 5am helped him to achieve the desired level of slumber.

In fact when we returned from church after midday, he was up and haunting (I use the word advisedly) the breakfast table – a couple of his friends, unable to get home, had spent the night in the spare room and he was being a good ghost, I mean host.

We had already figured out about the friends, using our usual method of counting the shoes in the porch and dividing by two.  After they had gone, he remained vertical for just long enough to help me change the spare bed, then returned wanly to the Land of Nod.

Later, when I called him for supper there was no reply – all in all, a successful day then.  Objective achieved.

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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Sign me up for Another Exam

Yesterday, on the morning of his final exam – alto saxophone grade 8 Perran found it hard to even get out of bed.  The previous day’s maths exam had been horrid and now he had to turn himself round for one more big test.  As Nigel and I departed for a foray to town I hissed to him

“I don’t know what to do – Perran’s not up yet.  Surely he should be practising.” 

By contrast, Carenza, in spite of partying until 2am, was up, showered and breakfasting – she and Sasoon were going to London – a couple of exhibitions and a “Killers” concert.  Strangely she seemed more motivated to get up than Perran. 

As we returned from town, it was a relief to hear Perran tootling a jazzy Charleston.

That afternoon, I drove Perran to the large private house in a nearby town which functions as an exam centre.  As we were approaching, a young girl clutching a flute was coming out in tears.  Perran and I exchanged a look.

Inside the host was friendly:

“We’re running early – neither of the candidates so far has actually taken their exam.”

We exchange another look.

Perran ripped through his pieces in a jaunty warm up with our very recently acquired and excellent accompanist, then went to face the music.

After half an hour, he came out of his very last exam all smiles.

After the scary build-up the examiner had turned out to be pleasant and appreciative.

“Do you know, I think I might like to take my Music Diploma next.”

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Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Last Little Bit of Agony

The last little bit of agony is being squeezed out of Perran today – it is his final saxophone exam.  Not only has nearly everybody else finished: to add insult to injury, the ordeal takes place on a Saturday.  His pieces are shaping up nicely although I only really understood some of them when I heard them accompanied by the piano for the first time last week (thank you so much to Mrs Paul for finding us a wonderful accompanist).

Once a young musician leaves school, it becomes much harder to engage in the “grades” structure, so this is probably his best shot at getting grade 8.  Hang on in there for one more day, Perran.


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Friday, 21 June 2013

The Post-Exam World

There was a stark contrast this morning between the pre-exam world and the post-exam one.  Perran rolled efficiently out of bed, and carried out the old school-time routine of ablutions, breakfast, then grimly yomped off to school.  He was facing his last academic exam this morning, and one of his toughest – Further Pure Maths, 2.

When he has gone, I wake Carenza who finished a week ago and is growing accustomed to leisure: 
“Come with me – I have something to show you.  Bring your camera”

I drive her to a country park two miles from where we live, and we walk up the hill, then take a path that is not on our usual route.  It is misty with fine rain, but as we crest the hill a woolly line of indigo appears on the horizon. 

“What is that, Mum?”

As we approach, the ground dips away into a sea of deep ultramarine.  Somebody has planted a field with innumerable tightly-packed cornflowers.

They are a blazing blue expression of the post-exam world.

Perran has one more exam to go – saxophone is tomorrow.  I am sure that when he finally emerges from his bed, some time on Sunday afternoon, the fabulous cornflowers will still be in bloom.

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Thursday, 20 June 2013

Getting the Most out of University Open Days

To me the chief importance of the university open days is to allow sixth formers to visualise themselves at university and to motivate them to get the grades.  Much of the hard information can be picked up from the Guardian and Times League tables and the prospectuses and websites, and you should do this beforehand.

For the calendar of open days

1)      Go on open days, but go on a Saturday to avoid missing school lessons.  Remember, you can often arrange mini tours or tours using a phone app on a Saturday even if you miss the full open day.  Should your child put that university down as one of their five, they then get a more targeted open day in the spring term. 

2)      As a parent, you don’t have to go to open days with your child.  They can hitch a lift with a friend who’s going or can go by coach or train.  This is valuable experience in being independent. However, if they go only with friends and without any adults, they often drift round in a group not engaging with university staff and students.

3)      Get the programme and help your child to plan their day and book any talks.

4)      Parents should stand back and encourage their child to ask questions and have conversations.

5)      Sixth formers should attend the open day talk about why you should study your subject.  Take notes. Write down quotes.  This is one of the questions you will be expected to answer in your personal statement and they are giving you the answer.  Ask the academics you meet what you should be reading right now, and what are the most active areas of the subject currently.   Again, use this in your personal statement.

6)      Ask the student guides about accommodation in the second and third years – is there a pleasant student quarter and is it reasonably priced?  If you get this wrong, your child might be condemned to living in a rough or distant part of town.

7)      Engage with the establishment you are interested in: do they offer short courses, summer school, essay prizes?

8)      Investigate disability support – mentoring, extra time in exams, lectures online.

9)      Start to enquire about bursaries, prizes, awards – these can be worth thousands.

10)   Killer question – the university staff and students are there to promote their university – they won’t tell you the bad stuff easily.  However, the question which slips under their guard is:

“If there was one thing you could change about this university, what would it be?”

The answers are often revealing.

11)   Above all, take notes.  One sixties university will blur into another, as will the redbricks.  Especially make notes on accommodation blocks you visit – it may save you a lengthy trip next summer when you have to decide.

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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

How to Support Your Child Through UCAS

A new generation of parents is approaching the process of applying for university.  Here are some ways to help your child right now.

The UCAS website is excellent .  Make sure you register as a parent to get the newsletters.

1)      Help them choose their subject – then everything falls into place: which A2s, which course, which university.

2)      Take them on open days, but go on a Saturday to avoid missing school lessons.  Remember, you can often arrange mini tours or tours using a phone app on a Saturday even if you miss the full open day.  If your child can picture themselves in a particular place, they become immensely interested in gaining the grades.  (More on open days tomorrow.)

3)      Help them to cut back.  A2s are harder than AS’s.  The most academic universities – Russell Group and those similar will be asking for three very good A2 grades, not four quite good ones.  More vocational courses will be asking for a points total, again not four A2s.

4)      Have a practise run at the UCAS personal statement.  The most important area is building the CV around the chosen subject.  There is still time to improve this – a week or two of volunteering in a relevant environment.  Or Google whether there is a national society, exhibitions, public talks, books to read.  See what’s going on at your local university.  Encourage your child to organise subject-specific museum outings and evenings watching relevant films/documentaries with their friends. Call it a Society (e.g. History Society, Biology Society).

5)      Know your deadlines for each stage of the process – these are on the UCAS website.

6)      Apply Early

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Don't do this to me

"So what do you plan to do?"

Carenza finished her exams on Friday morning and now we’re back from her grandparents in Cornwall.

“I guess I’d like to finish this scrapbook I started.” 

She pulls out a quirky album full of graphics, photos bons mots.  So cool.

“Maybe make some of my own clothes.  Perhaps start with pyjama bottoms. 

And I’m really enjoying this Helen Dunmore novel.”

There is the clack of the letterbox in the hall.  A thick letter has arrived for Carenza.

“Oh.  It’s my university reading list.”

She unfolds several sheets of typed A4 and scrutinises them.

“Do you know, I think I might just go back to bed again.”

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Monday, 17 June 2013

Prom Dress 3

Year 11 Prom
So after a couple of weeks the fairy-tale dress on the hanger now seems less enchanting.  Carenza and I really liked it, but Perran and Nigel emanated scorn.  Although they are clearly men and therefore know nothing, the dress is nevertheless somehow tarnished. 

We return it to the shopping centre. 

Carenza buys again the dress she originally liked, but this time a size smaller and now it looks great.  As we leave, I am very friendly to the shop assistants – we may be seeing them again.

That evening, Carenza comes into the sitting room having changed into the wondrous new frock, with Perran accompanying her. 


Nigel and I admire the prom dress wholeheartedly, then we hear Perran ahemming. 

As we turn to him, we see that he too looks gorgeous.  He has acquired a fabulous midnight blue evening suit and has come close to upstaging his sister. 

“That’s it,” I think, “No last minute prom panics now.”

Nigel says, “You’ll look even more glamorous when you find some shoes to go with that, Carenza.”

Shoes. Hmmm.

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Sunday, 16 June 2013

Air Lift

Carenza has finished her exams, but Perran hasn’t and nor has Sasoon.  Somebody clearly at a loose end, sleeping in, watching back-episodes of Made in Chelsea can become mysteriously unpopular with those still struggling with exams.

So I have air-lifted her out – actually in an old Ford Galaxy, not a helicopter, and taken her to see her grandparents in Cornwall.  She thinks that I have done it because it is time we paid a filial visit.  In fact I have saved her from a bad case of sororicide. 

She seems as happy in Cornwall as anywhere – there is a sofa to drape herself over, a patch of sunshine to bask in.  I have to restrain my mother from offering her a saucer of milk.

Meanwhile, Perran is preparing for the Edexcel substitute Maths papers for Core 4 and Further Pure 2.  It now looks as if there have been so many mess-ups with these papers that he is fully expecting them to arrive on his desk looking like a kidnapper’s note, composed of words cut out of newspapers and stuck on at odd angles.

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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Farewell, 1 Stoppard Street

That’s it.  Today’s the day. Roll sleeves up and clear Pascoe out of his student house for the last time.  I look up the address of the local dump, sure we’ll need it.  However, the day turns out to be a delicately choreographed tango with FreeCycle and there is very little waste.  Freecycle giveth and Freecycle taketh away.

We wipe, hoover, dust, sweep.

Other housemates will be coming and going over the next few weeks until the contract runs out, so there is only so much we can do.  This is in a way a comfort as even after a couple of hours of scrubbing, I still wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable with “Hello” magazine taking my celebrity pictures in there.

For me, emblematic of student life are a pair of “hairy hand” Halloween gloves.  They lie abandoned on the bookshelf.

“Do you want these, Pascoe?”

“No.  We’ve had a lot of fun with them over the years, but I don’t think I’ll need them again.”

He puts them in the bin.  I nearly cry.

We feel sad as we slam the car doors and say goodbye to the house. Even more sad when, just after we’ve dropped the key through the landlord’s letterbox, we realise Pascoe’s kettle and toaster are still in the house.

Farewell, 1 Stoppard Street.  Farewell kettle and toaster.

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Friday, 14 June 2013

Oh Edexcel!


 June 2013 Edexcel GCE Mathematics - replacement papers 

22 May 2013

We have been alerted to a potential security breach relating to some of our Edexcel GCE Mathematics papers and therefore are replacing a number of papers. 

The examination papers affected are:

Date of examination
Paper code
Paper Title
6 June 2013 (am)
Mechanics, M2
10 June 2013 (am)
Mechanics, M3
10 June 2013 (am)
Further Pure Mathematics, FP1
13 June 2013 (am)
Core Mathematics, C3
18 June 2013 (am)
Core Mathematics, C4
21 June 2013 (am)
Further Pure Mathematics, FP2
24 June 2013 (pm)
Further Pure Mathematics, FP3

No other GCE Mathematics papers have been affected.

A box of exam papers has been lost during the dispatch process by the carrier responsible for our distribution. We are confident that the extent of the breach is limited in scope, but we want to be certain that the integrity of these examinations is not compromised in any way. We will therefore be issuing replacement papers for these examinations to all centres with entries.


Edexcel says that its maths paper due to be taken on 21 June will now be substituted by another paper.

There were fears that copies of the planned maths paper had been made accidentally available to schools preparing for exams in Egypt.

"We are confident that no student will be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged," says the exam board.


Although there are fears that the substitute “understudy” papers could be harder, at least everybody is taking the same paper and is at a similar disadvantage.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Not Finished Yet

Last Thursday I had to nip into the twins’ school and Lucy (from year 13) was working on reception:

“How are the exams going?”

“I haven’t started yet.”

On the way out, I ran into Sarah.

“How are the exams going?”

“Just sitting my last one today.”

Although she had the mandatory transparent pencil case and plastic bottle of water in one hand, she was wearing an up-to-the-minute lace top, as if going on somewhere more interesting afterwards. 

The explanation - Lucy’s science exams fall later in the exam period than Sarah’s Arts papers.

I’d like to encourage all those students who have finished early not to disrupt their fellow students by partying, but instead to read all those worthwhile tomes of literature and philosophy that they heard about during A2s and wished they had time to read.

As if.

At least the good old British weather is now rubbish again, posing little distraction to those who remain incarcerated with their textbooks.  Somebody who is confined to revision has unnaturally heightened senses and can detect the odour of a barbecue up to two miles away and the laughter from a game of Frisbee from even further.

For those taking further maths, like Perran, there is still over a week to go.  Although he does always say that it’s not cool to arrive at a party too early.  By the time he is free to join it, the summer-long post-A2 party will well and truly have warmed up.  

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