Wednesday 14 December 2011

It's not like a physical illness...

The thing with anorexia or any other eating disorder is that it's not like a physical illness. Sure, people can 'see' that you're losing weight at a rapid pace, but I believe that most people just don't realise that there is a mass of other really nasty stuff going on as well: messy emotions, erratic and sometimes violent behaviour, irrational thinking, compulsions, obsessions, personality change and a total inability to cope with normal life. It is not simply a 'diet gone too far'. It is not something that 'any sensible person' could 'just snap out of'.

All of this, and probably a load more besides, adds up to the reason why our children are at a disadvantage when it comes to things like sitting important exams and qualifying for university. I expect that many of them, like Ben, are more than capable of doing top degree programmes, the kind that require AAA grades. But, through no fault of their own, they get poor grades or - like one of Ben's AS level exams - a U classification (fail)...

When I talk to school staff and university admissions staff I wonder just how much they really 'get it'.

If I was standing there explaining that my son had spent the past two years battling with cancer, then I often wonder if they'd be more sympathetic to our case.

I could be wrong, of course. They DO appear to be sympathetic but, when asked how much flexibility there is should Ben fail to get the grades he is capable of getting, it's all "Well it really depends how oversubscribed we are". In other words, there's not much chance of them allowing slipped grades when they're being swamped by AAA students.

What about the fact that people like Ben really ARE capable of studying an AAA course at a 'red brick' university? Not just capable, but supremely knowledgeable and passionate about their chosen subject?

That they NEED this intellectual stimulation. It is part of their makeup, it is what makes them tick, it is what makes their lives worthwhile and gives them focus. Academic study was one of the only things that ran like clockwork at a time when everything else in Ben's life was going pearshaped.

Not to mention the rock solid fact that students like Ben have mastered important independent learning skills - something that is key to succeeding at university. Other fantastic skills they've mastered include self-motivation, focus, research and evaluation abilities, deep thinking, time-management and the ability to work through periods when you feel pretty rubbish or are ill.

So I asked an admissions tutor the other day if, in the event that Ben didn't get his grades, they might consider interviewing him so he can prove to them just how capable he is. I know he'd love to have this opportunity and I know his passion and sheer depth and breadth of knowledge would come across loud and clear.

No, was the answer.

So, if he doesn't get his grades and there is no flexibility to allow for the fact he's been battling in a physical and emotional hell for the past two years while studying for critical exams, then it may be a case of having to resit the exams until he DOES get the grades.

Or go into clearing and opt for a uni he doesn't want to go to.

Please don't let him have to resit those confounded AS level exams AGAIN...


  1. Batty, I'm so sorry to hear that Ben has had such a difficult time over this.....
    My d is just starting out at college and missed all her GCSEs as you prob remember she was in hospital... We have been extremely lucky to have a very understanding principal and deputy at her college to take her without a single GCSE to 'resit' some GCSEs and do her AS Art this year..
    General 'rule' states that she should have done her GCSE Art first but having seen her work and based on reports from her secondary school they felt that she deserved the opportunity to get back into normal life and shine at something she enjoyed and showed a real passion and talent for..... I could have kissed the dep principal when he fought for her rights and stepped up to challenge the 'norm'
    Should I send him over to you? xx

  2. Hi cjp, School have actually been brilliant in a similar way to yours. I could hug the Head of Sixth Form; she's been wonderful and I know she's an extremely busy person. She, personally, is taking on the task of liaising with universities and writing his UCAS reference. She's taken so much time to really understand his problem.

    The AS resits are next week and there is probably another opportunity to resit later in the year if needs be. Also we've just realised that his favourite uni have offered him a slightly lower grade for one subject on condition that he gets an A in his EPQ which he did in the summer (not got the grade yet).

    Fingers crossed...