GCSEs start today.

Exams are stressful every time, for students and teachers alike. And parents.

But they seem especially stressful for foster children and foster parents.

I'm not pulling rank here and saying our job is harder than the average parent.

Oh who am I kidding; that's exactly what I'm saying. GCSEs are harder for foster parents in almost every way except one.

The one way in which it's slightly easier for foster parents when their foster children are taking GCSEs is when the child in question isn't going to be part of your family forever, so a small voice reminds you that if they do badly and end up with poor prospects they'll be elsewhere when the stark reality of how little the world wants unqualified British labour kicks in.

But even that easing of our burden is counteracted by the fact that you worry even more about ensuring they do their best because if you're not there to help them pick up the pieces there might be nobody at all.

We get to look after other people's children for different periods of time. It might be a single night or a weekend. If it's short term you don't get a chance to focus on their exam prospects, even if they're sitting an exam the next day; the likelihood is they are up to their ears in family problems and will probably be re-scheduled to sit the exams again when things are more settled.

The big stressers, when it comes to helping foster children take their GCSEs, lie in the fact that you've got no first hand experience of their educational strengths and weaknesses down the years. So it's that much harder to get a bead on their academic potential.

And you know less than you'd like about the aspirations their real family had loaded onto them, or equally, how much they had consciously or unconsciously hampered the child's intellectual development.

How much damage had been done to the child's desire to take on the world.

We had one girl stay with us who was being readied for her GCSEs. She arrived during the school holidays so we had a couple of weeks to get to know her before school became an issue.

She was very, very bright. Bright in that sharp way that looked-after children often display. She'd have made a GREAT lawyer. She could argue her way through anything and anyone and come out the other side with bells on.

I expected, once she started back to school, to discover she was University material.

But no, you're probably ahead of me here, she was getting special help in almost every subject!

The school wanted her to sit every exam across the board even though she had years of catching up to do.

I got onto them and said that rather than her end up with low marks in twelve subjects, we should pick three or four, play to her strengths, and concentrate on getting good marks in them.

I wanted the school to excuse her from eight subjects, freeing up time for her to top up in the ones she was concentrating on.

Long story short; it didn't happen. The school said they couldn't cope and that if she was allowed to do it they'd be inundated.

The girl often told me she wanted to work with animals.

Animals rather than people, I remember thinking. People let you down in ways that animals don't, she'd already learned that.

I hope she managed it, I doubt it. You need qualifications for the job of your dreams, but foster children have often had to spend their short lives coping with so much turbulence and unsettling events that their schooling has gone by the wayside, and suddenly here they are being fed into a big hall with desks arranged just so, a silence descends and when they turn the paper over they get the first concrete shock to their system that they have struggled at home, struggled with family, struggled with school and now, as they look at the exam papers, realise that their future life itself is going to be a struggle.

Parents of their own children hopefully help all they can with revision and soothing words.

We foster carers have to do our darndest with the revision, but it's with all the other aspects of GCSEs we come into our own. 

The emotional aspects. 

You have to find a way to tell somebody else's child that on the one hand GCSEs matter, and that on the other hand they don't matter all that much. Not compared to their emotional wellbeing.

I never managed to get that message right with my own children, and try as I might I can't make it stick with other people's little ones.