On Saturday night, LSB and myself took a trot down the Ormeau. There was a buzz and a busyness in the air. The restaurants were heaving. In The Northern Lights we met a friend out with her family. They were celebrating their child’s transfer test results and the relief on their faces was palpable. The process was over: they could exhale. Excitedly, they popped their coats on to go for pizza. I love meeting these guys- and I know whatever the results had been, they would have out anyway.
‘I want that to be us,’ I said, after we passed on our congratulations. ‘Whatever happens in that bloody exam, we are booking a table the week before. We will tell the girls that we are proud of them, and that we are sorry that they have to do this bloody, farcical test at eleven years of age.’
You may have noticed that I stay away from some of the controversial issues. I don’t write at length about Brexit, about the right to choose, about the chasm in our government. I ruminate instead about the everyday irritations I face, and I find this most cathartic. There are better, more informed and let’s face it, professional journos out there, who are paid to analyse and reflect upon the big stuff. Feedback from the people I meet and who like the SWB blog, tell me they enjoy the irreverent tone and the lighter things I touch upon. Unfortunately, as soon as one does start writing about tougher subjects, along come the trolls and up starts the abuse. I’ve enough to deal with in life without that aggravation.
You may, discerning readers as you are, have picked up on the fact that I’m a worry wart. I can put a day in rightly, agonising over Brexit, potential nuclear annihilation and getting cancer from the micro-plastics in my tap water. I have now started to stress in earnest about my children, and the transfer procedure. They are children who (usually) want to please. They try hard, and sometimes produce pieces of writing and pictures which make me stop and think ‘Wow. What an intuitive little buddy you are.’ However, does this exam really test what matters? And if they don’t get their desired result, how will it affect the rest of their school lives?
A former colleague of mine confessed that she had a headache, a sharp tense pain over her right eye, for four months. She was haggard by the end of the transfer process. Her daughter is bright and zingy and happily sailed off to her school of choice. But I thought about the impact the whole wretched debacle had on the whole family. A friend who had twin girls said he wouldn’t even let them sit the test. No way he said, what if one got it and the other didn’t? The ramifications seem endless.
When I did the 11+ as it was called, it was 1989. I sat in my usual p7 classroom, with my friends, and a kindly looking man in his seventies was the invigilator. He looked like my grandad. Classmates had brought in little ‘good luck charms’ and I set out a dog I’d made from FIMO and a teeny picture of Kylie and Jason dressed in their wedding gear as Scott and Charlene from Neighbours. There was a second exam a couple of weeks later and I don’t remember being overly stressed. Yes, we had done many practice papers in class, but it must, despite being a highly academic primary school, have been well managed by the staff. On the morning of the exam my mum worried I’d be up to ‘high-do’, but apparently she found me reading away at Judy Blume novel in the back of the car.
Now, as any shell-shocked parents know, children have potentially four tests to do, trailing from school to school and sitting in unfamiliar classrooms. I’ve personally been an invigilator at the grammar school where I used to teach. All of us were under strict instruction to be as welcoming and reassuring as we could. Still, it’s not enough is it? Our efforts to be pleasant do not compensate for the bureaucratic nightmare that it is. I think the system is wrong- separating kids from their friends and encouraging competitiveness and snobbishness (and that’s only the parents.)
As parents, I think all LSB and myself can do, is instill the best sense of self in our girls as we can. We will encourage them to work hard and offer our help and support. We will share our own stories from school, about times when we struggled and felt sad and lost, or moments when we found real pleasure in learning. I just hope it’s enough.