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Celebrating Milestones in a System That Times Grief

A graphic of an hourglass.

It's here. The big day you've been waiting for. You spent months studying for an exam that determines your future, and now you're getting the results.

But then it hits you: a person you want to share this moment with isn't here.

For students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, this week was that moment: GCSE results day.

GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. Students take these exams when they are 14- to 16-years-old. The exams determine if a student is eligible for a higher education course.

These kinds of milestones are huge in a child's life. It's a day for them to hopefully celebrate all the hard work they've put into the exams.

But for some, it's a reminder of what they've lost.

This critical reminder on social media stopped me in my tracks yesterday:

How bereaved children cope during big milestones like results days is overlooked. This morning I was at the cemetery and a lad came to visit his sister. He opened his results beside her grave. She must have meant so much to him that he wanted to share that moment with her. - @ShuaibKhan26 / X

Shuaib knows the feeling of losing a sibling all too well. He lost his brother to leukemia and has since written a book of poetry, Small Circle, Big Heart, dedicated to his little brother.

We hope our Smile Network can help with these important milestones in a child's life. After creating a network for a child, you can set milestones to remind their supporters of all the critical moments.

The GCSE only has exceptions for students who have been bereaved in the last six months. With this exception, a student can receive up to a 5% extra mark.

Evidence that death has a lengthy impact on GCSE results is strong. A study in 2004 found that bereaved young people scored on average half a grade below expectation in each exam. A Swedish national cohort study found that parental death lowered grades even when controlling for just about every other imaginable factor, including socio-economics, criminality, and parental mental health. And this has a lasting impact, with a recent Danish study finding that bereaved males were up to 26% less likely to get degrees than their peers.

From our viewpoint, six months doesn't seem like nearly enough time. All children grieve differently on their own timeline.

A child's grief doesn't magically go away six months later.

We sincerely hope the exam boards can revisit and revise the exception for bereaved students.

If you would like to read more of Shuaib's writing, check out his blog post here. I read it this morning and needed a few tissues. The way he writes about his grief in such a unique way.

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