Friday, 19 August 2011

Results Day is over for another year.....

And we are all very grateful for that in our household, I can tell you!

Having two daughters relatively close in age (20 months) was a real bonus when they were younger. As small children they played together and starting school came back-to-back, one year after another. We didn't have time to get out of practise with each stage, they shared friends and experiences, they were close (though not too close) and shared popular culture and infant 'crazes' together.

It was when they got to the mid-teen stage that I realised the full horror of what was to come.

Exams.

As a family we are almost, but not quite, through a cycle of unbearable stress and strain. Eldest did her GCSE's one year, then as she was doing her AS levels, youngest was doing her GCSEs. This conveyor belt of misery has culminated  this year with them doing AS and A levels respectively, compounded by their getting their A and AS level results ON THE SAME DAY AN HOUR APART.

If you have never experienced this you will never know the unutterable tension of the few days leading up to (let alone the 6 weeks of study, revision lessons, testing, pressure and worry before the exams themselves) this Day of Days. Anyone who knows me, knows I am fairly laid-back about these things, but even I was infected with stress headache and palpitations... the teens were fearful, eyes big as saucers with fear, and as a parent it's not a good thing to watch at all.

A levels are not easy, as is often written in the press. They are different and modular and I will agree, it is 'easier' to get a high grade when you have coursework, no doubt about that. But a huge amount of work still needs to go in to get that high grade for coursework, let alone the exams. And yes in the 80's when I took mine, the statistics state that A grades were given to 11% of exam grades whereas now it has levelled off at around 24% - which is a huge leap in, oh yes 20 odd years. Surely we would hope that would be the case anyway as we progress as a society and to keep up with the rest of the world? As a parent I have seen first hand that getting A or B grades (let alone the 'gold standard' A star) still takes work, dedication and talent. And 75% of exams don't get an A and account for results well below A in a lot of cases - as we as a family have seen this week.

In my children's school (which is a non-selective comprehensive) nearly 25% of  the lower-sixth have not got a place in the upper sixth next year because they didn't get the grades. Why is this? They were selected for the sixth form on the strength of their GCSEs so either the teaching was targeted at the higher achievers or they didn't understand the huge leap needed to switch from GCSEs to A levels that they were going to have to take. I think it is more likely to be the latter and it is this problem of the gap between what is required to pass GCSEs and what an A level, that needs to be addressed here. I believe it takes a year to really get into your subject at A level and a year to consolidate your thoughts about it. We took two years to study our subjects. With the new way of teaching you have two terms and then are preparing for ASs (and in the case of my youngest daughter she had two terms and was sitting two AS level papers at the end of this). It really doesn't benefit anyone and allows schools to get rid of those that take longer to get into their stride, before they've even had a chance to get their feet under the A level desk. Hence, guess what, the school's performance at the end of A levels in these ridiculous league tables gets better every year - well what a surprise!

So instead of the joy of narrowing what you study to those things you enjoy and having a little time to really get to know your subject you are being tested to buggery, are in fear of losing your sixth form place and have all the fun of learning stripped out.

Anyway moving away from my rant, how did it all go? Eldest got more than she needed for her chosen university - but she sweated blood to do this and the hard work paid off in bucketfuls. Youngest was a bit disappointed as her grades were not as high as some, or as high as she had been expecting for the work she put in - but she has a good solid grounding on which to build next year.

Some of their friends did really well, some not so well. It's a mixed bag and always will be. All I know is that we are lucky in that their friends, whatever their academic achievements, are decent, nice people who in the future we all hope will find their path and will be fine.

Personally? I didn't go to university as my grades were fairly rubbish. I was a lazy bugger at a high achieving grammar who wasn't encouraged as I wasn't Russell Group material. I went to art school which I dropped out of and managed to get a position which allowed me to learn on the job - frankly I never looked back. Hence my choice of as 'good' a local comprehensive as I could get for my kids was I still feel, the right one. I just wish education today wasn't this bloody awful merry-go-round of tests and the expectation that everyone HAS to go to university or fail in life. In my experience most of my friends who didn't go have done as well if not, in some cases, better than those that did. I do hope with the focus on good apprenticeships and other opportunities, that this will all change quickly. For every smiling blonde in the paper leaping for joy at her 5 A stars there's a long, long line of stressed out, disillusioned and frankly knackered 17 and 18 year old's wondering what the hell they're going to do now....



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