Here in England and Wales (not Scotland – not sure about Northern Ireland) the exam results are released today for the General Certificate of Secondary Education. These are exams where our 14-16 year old school students strive to gain the highest grades :
The pass grades, from highest to lowest, are: A* (pronounced 'A-star'), A, B, C, D, E, F, G and U
A*-C are much more desirable and insisted on by many employers and educational institutions such as Universities. Those who fail a course are given a U (unclassified) and the subject is not included on their certificates.
When I was at school back in 1969 the exams were just GCE – General Certificate of Education. We had to do a mock exam a few months before the real exam – failure in a mock meant you couldn’t take the real thing.
I remember battling unsuccessfully with the teachers about taking the DS (Domestic Science ( i.e. cookery) and the Maths Mock. I was (am!) a hopeless cool and therefore hated cookery; I dreaded that exam as I knew I would mess it up. (I did. I failed.) But Maths was even worse. I pleaded with the teachers to not sit that mock exam. “It’s a waste of time” I said. “We all know I am going to fail – wouldn’t it be better for me to use that time to study the subjects I am good at?”
But no, I had to do it.
I got 3% (the first three easy questions) right. Massive fail. Well there’s a surprise.
English Language and literature I eventually got good grades for (I think B’s, but honestly can’t remember) A good grade for Religious Knowledge as well – I sailed through that exam, finishing the questions with half an hour to go, so asked for more paper and wrote a story instead.
Trouble was, all the other girls (it was a Girls School) thought I was still answering the exam questions so were concerned that as I seemed to be writing loads, so should they. After the exam when I said (rather astounded that they didn’t realise this) that I was writing a story they wouldn’t speak to me for a week. A bit hurtful, but who needs silly people as friends anyway?
I was also annoyed with Art. I wanted to take the proper GCE but the school wouldn’t let me, I had to take the lower grade CSE (Certificate Secondary Education) One of the “things to do” was to make a child’s soft toy. I wanted to make a felt dragon. The pattern was a little complicated, but looked fabulous – I intended to sew sequins on the hind quarters and legs and have gauze for the wings …. But the teachers wouldn’t let me do it. So I made a stupid bull instead, which went straight in the bin afterwards because I had no interest or enthusiasm for the wretched thing.
To prove my point, after leaving school I made the dragon for myself. It was probably not too well sewn (I also can’t sew) but it DID look very striking.
My careers talk was also useless. I told the Career’s Mistress that I wanted to be a journalist (because I wanted to write – but I thought novelists were clever, rich, people who had university degrees and such.) She laughed. “Don’t be silly Helen, how can you be a journalist? You can’t type.”
So just for the record. Not having good exam grades hasn’t made the slightest difference to me …. And I still can’t type.
There really is more to life than bits of paper with a grade on it. Great if you are academically minded and can achieve in exams – but if you are not, if you are dyslexic, for instance, then so what? The world doesn’t only need teachers, bankers, accountants, secretaries, office workers etc – we also need butchers, bakers, car mechanics, gymnasts, footballers …. Dustmen, supermarket shelf fillers…. In fact, we’d probably survive without the academics, but we wouldn’t last long without the cooks and the cleaners.
So if you, or someone in your family has achieved good grades today – well done. But if you haven’t…. well, it really isn’t the end of the world. Go out and do something you ARE good at.
Make the dragon, not the silly bull.