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Advice & Support for Parents

I have created this advice page because, like most parents, I have a real desire to see my children do well at school but sometimes wonder the best way to go about it. Before getting down to the actual steps that you can take to improve your son/daughter's chances of success, I would like to highlight a few important and relevant points.

Most of us want our children to stay on to sit Highers and either go on to Further Education or leave and get a “decent job”. However, while somewhere in the region of 70% of a given year group will get Standard grades, only around 30% will get Higher. Pupils should be more or less entitled to expect Standard grade success but only a small minority will achieve Higher success and those who want to be part of that successful minority are going to have to work hard at achieving it.


Kilmarnock Academy
EA: East Ayrshire Council


































I mention this because there is an expectation on the part of some pupils and parents that if the pupil turns up at class on a regular basis and does the class work then, when fifth year arrives, that pupil ought to pass the Higher. For the small minority of pupils who have already achieved a fairly high level of expression and fluency by S5, that (along with the guidance and advice of the teacher) will probably be sufficient. However, for the vast majority of pupils, who have limited experience of the level of expression and analysis required for Higher English, there are no short-cuts to success. One girl in my present Higher class was disappointed at failing her “Romeo & Juliet” critical essay but had not actually read the text (She said: “It doesn't interest me.” I said: ”What did you think of that film you didn't see last night?”). Two others who had six weeks to research and write a report on local retail and leisure handed in work that was so full of basic errors in expression, punctuation and grammar that it was low standard grade 4 level (i.e. almost Foundation level) and one of them was less than a single side of A4 long. None of these pupils asked for assistance or hinted that she was experiencing difficulties. Other members of the class produced very good work although they only had the same input and guidance from me. I must emphasise here that all three concerned are pleasant enough pupils but you don't get Higher English for being “a quite agreeable individual” – I've never come across that phrase in the marking instructions.

What parents can do:

Help your son/daughter organize a study timetable and develop a study/revision routine.

Ensure that he/she has the opportunity to study and revise.

Ensure that he/she has a suitable study environment.

Ensure that he/she is exposed to the types and levels of language that will be encountered in the Higher exam. In simple terms, they should have access to literature, “quality” newspapers, TV documentaries/the news and TV drama/ even Wildlife on One!

Monitor and discuss the work they are covering – don't settle for “fine” but get them to explain things to you.

Provide encouragement.

Provide incentives and sanctions.

Help to motivate by identifying career/FE options and by establishing entry requirements for these as early as possible so they have an incentive, a target and a tangible reward.

Ask your children about their set homework and be aware of ongoing homework/development activities in each subject (these should be listed on each department's web page).

Some Useful Study/Revision Tips

Always remember the positive reasons for doing homework/ revision (e.g. pride, satisfaction, achievement, self-development, confidence, knowledge, opportunity, job-choice, freedom...... and money).

Develop a routine and develop the self-discipline to stick to that routine.

Don't do too much of one subject at the one time.

Take a break - but make sure that you have done something to deserve it!

Get the least pleasant tasks out of the way first - save the more interesting activities till last.

Do your homework and revision as early as possible (e.g. from 4pm till 5pm or 6pm till 7pm) so that you have some leisure time to look forward to.

Complete homework activities at least a day before the deadline.

Break revision down into manageable segments - it's better to do small amounts on a regular basis than try to learn it all at once.


What pupils must do:

Ask questions in class and let the teacher know about difficulties encountered.

Read books – fiction and non-fiction.

Read newspapers – the ”quality press” and journals.

Study and analyse past papers.

Practise writing.

Develop vocabulary – learn more words and how to use them - we think nothing of doing this in French so English should be no different.

Develop checking skills – read what you have actually written rather than what you think you wrote.

Develop sentence construction and fluency – reading will help develop your “ear” for this.

Revise basic grammar and punctuation – don't just know the rules – apply them!

Revise use of conjunctions.

Revise literary techniques and devices.

Revise use of verb tenses.

Revise and apply the instructions and tips on how to write a critical essay and how to do Close Reading.

Develop/add to the “themes list”.

This may seem like rather a long list but nobody said it would be easy. If you want to achieve Higher success then you will have to perform consistently at that level. If you are not at that level now, then the list of activities above will take you to that level.


There is no doubt in my mind that motivation is one of the main factors in determining academic success. The unfortunate thing is that it is in first year that most pupils are highly motivated - or at least prepared to get on with the work. As pupils progress through secondary school the majority of them become less motivated.

I have listed below some of the reasons to succeed that I have gone over with my own classes.

Reasons to Succeed - Motivation Tips for Pupils

At all times remember that your future is in your hands (not your teachers', not your parents'). Also remember that the only person who will benefit from some serious effort (or suffer from the lack of it) will be you - not your teachers, not your friends, not your parents . . . . just YOU!

1. Basic Economics - If you were offered a job in Asda working thirty hours per week and the pay was nothing (zero pence/hee haw/ zilch) then you would quite rightly turn it down. Now think about this . . . You started school at the age of five so now you are in your thirteenth year at school. Do you really want to have spent 5 days per week, 40 weeks per year, for thirteen years . . . . and have nothing to show for it?

2. Job Choice - obviously employers will judge you on your grades and the better jobs will go to those with better grades.

 3. Financial Benefits - better job equals more money . . . more money equals better social life, more choices, greater independence.

4. Independence - maybe you'll never want it - maybe you'll be perfectly happy to let your family provide you with familiar comforts . . . FOREVER!

 5. Self Respect, Pride and Personal Satisfaction - proving them all wrong - all those people who think you just haven't got it. You really DON'T want to hear them smugly say, “I told you so!”.

6. Avoiding guilt - one thing that feels worse than other people knowing you could have done better is knowing yourself that you should have done so much better.

7. Avoiding Certified Failure Syndrome – just picture it - in an HR department in a big company, a potential employer comes across your application form. She looks at the years you attended school and then the “passes gained” box. “So, you stayed on an extra two years at school and you got no Highers whatsoever. Right, so what does that make you? Stupid? Lazy? Or just lacking motivation?” Any guesses where your form will go – the top of the pile or the bin?


There is no doubt that people who read a lot gradually build up an intuitive understanding of many of the skills involved in English. However, unless pupils have unlimited time for their skills to develop, then they must make a conscious effort to cultivate them. In order to improve, they must increase their exposure to - and your awareness of - language. If they don't do this then they will struggle with English. Many people hope to do well in Writing without actually doing much writing. Many people hope to do well in Close Reading without ever eh . . . . reading. Such people will, quite rightly, fail - you won't get something for nothing!


As with any other subject, the approach to English should involve :

(a) identifying /clarifying exactly what is being tested by the examiners

(b) developing your knowledge and understanding of those skills

(c) gaining practical experience of applying those skills

(d) identifying your weaknesses/problems/deficiencies

(e) remedial action, targeted at specific problems (i.e. more practice)


Some people worry about things more than others. Although normally this is a personality trait that is difficult to remove completely, it can be reduced by:

(a) total familiarity with the exam and all the details of its format (careful analysis of past papers is required for this) .

(b) experience of actually doing all the different parts of the exam.

In other words, take away some of the reasons to be nervous - the lack of confidence, the uncertainty.

Remember that your aim is to increase knowledge, experience and confidence. There is no way that you would feel confident and in control sitting a driving test after one or two lessons. Even if you know how to drive, you need a certain amount of time and experience to put that knowledge into practice. If you'd had thirty or forty lessons you would be a lot more confident and a lot less nervous. It's more to do with practice and preparation than it is to do with luck.

N. McIlvanney 2005