Seventeen years ago, I collected my exam results. There was no big fuss; my parents didn’t come with me; there was no fanfare. It was just another day. I was more excited about my upcoming holiday than I was about the contents of that brown envelope!
Receiving my results wasn’t a momentous event, for me. Before I even opened that envelope I knew I’d not done as well as I could have done. But I wasn’t too worried. I knew that I’d be able to go to college and do something. I knew things would work out. I guess my mum hadn’t pressured me into thinking that this was the be all and end all. So, I picked my results up, thanked my teachers, and left. I had finally finished school and was excited to see what the next chapter of my life would hold. I don’t ever remember feeling that the contents of that envelope would ever define me.
Since then, I’ve been a part of my students’ experience on Results Day, and each year I think back to sixteen year old Rachel and I reflect. I didn’t achieve amazing (or even good) exam results, yet I still had hope that I could go on to have a successful life. Why is it then that year on year I find myself consoling students who didn’t achieve an A* (or as of this year, in English, a grade 9)?
Every child matters? Seems to me that our Government only want every child to matter, if they are headed for A Levels or university. Those who have not managed to crack the tougher grading do not seem to be given any hope.
After all, what is there to hope for? It seems that when students do achieve instead of their achievements being celebrated the goal posts are moved! Now, I’m all for progression, but I’m not sure this elitist attitude towards ensuring a clear distinction in what have been described as the ‘best’ learners is progress.
Who defines best? Who says that being able to write at length, and paraphrase quotes from 19th Century literature is best? Who says being able to work out simultaneous equations in a set amount of time, using a prescribed formulae in order to achieve the full three marks is best?
Where’s the exam that measures grit, determination and resilience?
I am an English teacher at a PRU (pupil referral unit). A school that provides education to students who for various reasons are unable to attend mainstream school. Now, not all my students put in the time and effort needed to achieve what the government consider a ‘good’ grade. That’s their choice. Some can blame family circumstances; some can blame disruption to education; but ultimately it was down to them.
But what about the kids who didn’t give up? I’ll give you an example. Student A was admitted into the Local Authority Care system at a young age. Student A was abused and passed from pillar to post as a results. Student A was deemed too disruptive for mainstream school and sent to our PRU at the start of their GCSE year. During the time of their GCSEs Student A was passed again through three different homes. Student A still attended school everyday and left with seven GCSEs plus other qualifications. Student A cried because they didn’t achieve an A* or a grade 9.
Student A is one of many students who have a range of talents and who will achieve in life, but only if we stop measuring success by exam performances. Due to this I’m reflecting on my teaching. Some might think that I need to change my teaching style to ensure that all students achieve the grade 9. Well I’m not. I’m going to ensure that I plough bucket loads of grit, determination and resilience into my students, and reassure them that if they don’t get a perfect set of results it’s not the end of the world.