Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Kerry McLean: I don't know the answer to the transfer test conundrum, but seeing my son worry over the past few weeks tells me our current system isn't it

By Kerry McLean

Time is a very precious thing. I hate to wish it away, but I confess I've been impatiently waiting for the last four weeks to pass. If I'd had a sneaky swish of some witch's wand at Halloween, I'd have jumped forward in time, to 11 o'clock today and the end of this year's transfer tests.

This day sees hundreds of 10 and 11-year-olds, my son amongst them, being shown into a school hall somewhere to sit the final paper, with the regulation two pencils and one rubber tightly clasped in their clammy wee hands.

It's my second time riding the transfer test roller coaster and, as parents who have walked this path before me know, experience doesn't make it any easier.

Yes, this time around I knew the timetable of when forms had to be sent and how many photos and copies of birth certificates were needed, but that's just paperwork and not overly taxing. Instead, the hard bit has been keeping my kids calm, happy and, if not quite stress-free, at least managing to keep it at bay.

My eldest is a very sensible soul. When it was her turn, she of course had butterflies about sitting the exams, but she also had a que sera sera attitude that stood her in good stead. She had her heart set on one particular school (thankfully, the one she got into) but was realistic and sensible enough to keep her mind open to other options.

I knew I was doing something right as a parent when I heard her in the back seat of our car, explaining to her pal that, "...at the end of the day, all schools teach the same subjects, it's just a matter of geography where you study them…" It was a belief I'd spent the last few months trying to instil, but you never know if these seeds of wisdom will take hold in the harsh environment of an almost-teenage brain.

My son is a brilliant boy. I know you'll think I'm biased, and you'd be right, but he honestly is. He's full of energy and excitement, he's got a wicked sense of humour, a laugh like a foghorn and a heart as big as a lion. He's kind and thoughtful and when the rest of us are exasperated with the never-ending diva demands of his two-year-old sister, he still has the patience of a saint. He's a smart cookie, an inquisitive and intelligent soul (he gets that from his grandparents) and does very well in class.

But over the last few weeks, I've watched him get more and more worried about the upcoming tests. I've seen how the pressure has stopped him nodding off at bedtime, and when he finally falls into a doze, I've listened to him grind his teeth and talk in his sleep. I've tried to distract him with days out, playing together on the Xbox (or at least attempting to - how on earth do you work those controls?!) and generally doing daft things to try and make him laugh.

There have been times when I've considered withdrawing him from the tests, but he's desperate to go to the same school as his sister. As a parent, it's hard to watch, but I know I'm not alone. I've witnessed children crying at the school gates as they go to sit a paper, I've even seen a couple throw up through nerves.

I'm not pretending to know the answer to the long-running transfer test conundrum but, having been through it twice, I know that what we currently have isn't it.

Something that reduces young children to tears, that makes them feel like the results garnered from a few Saturday morning tests can determine the path they take over the rest of their lives, surely can't be right.

To all the children who sat their test today, well done, you're all stars.

To the Mums and Dads, congratulations, you got them through it.

Tonight, our house will be full of pizza-munching, hot chocolate-guzzling McLeans. All thoughts of the transfer tests will hopefully be pushed out of our minds and, fingers crossed, my son will finally gets a good, stress-free night's sleep.

Belfast Telegraph

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