The aftermath of my exam results day is 30 years old, now, but I am still reminded of it, year in, year out, every August, and I was reminded of it in both the years that my own children received their exam results. I knew long before the day just how disappointed I was going to be by the whole thing, but, somehow, I still couldn’t prevent it all from unfolding the way that it did.
One very perceptive Tweeter, a young man only a year or two out of school himself, twittered that he had noticed rather a lot of minor celebrities commiserating with students who had done less well at their A levels than they might have, saying something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, I didn’t do well in my A’ levels, either, and look how fabulous I am now!”
What a lot of self-aggrandising nonsense.
My next question would be, “Compared to what? Or whom?”
There’s no way to know, is there, how a person’s life might have changed if they’d done better at something, if they’d taken a different path?
Of course, we make lots of choices in our lives, and lots of choices are made for us, particularly when we are school aged, and, actually, our attitude to school and how well we do there has a great deal to do with our parents, I think.
There is stuff that we can’t change.
There are also things that we can do to make our lives different and/or better, and if we can’t do those things for ourselves, we can damned well do them for our children when the time comes.
I believe that the husband’s parents and mine did what they thought was right for him, and for me and my siblings, and for their families as entire entities. I respect them totally for that.
It doesn’t mean that I agree with all of their choices. As parents, we followed that basic pattern; we thought long and hard about what we wanted to do with and for our children, and then we made decisions based on those ideas and ideals. Some of those choices were similar to the choices that our parents made, and some of those choices were different. Our ideology probably fell closer to one set of parents, in the end, than the other. Circumstances, politics, the changing times, education, temperament... all sorts of things played their roles.
The point is that we thought about what we wanted to do and we made choices.
I didn’t do well in my A’ levels. Secondary school was a horrible place for me and a horrible time in my life, for all sorts of reasons. I didn’t take it terribly seriously, for all sorts of reasons, some of which were intellectual, but some of which were emotional, some circumstantial and some, no doubt, to do with the fact that I was an undiagnosed bi-polar teenager.
|Oxford, with it's dreaming spires.|
One of my favourite cities where the husband
and daughter both studied.
The difference is, I don’t want to defend any of that. I don’t want to say that I did brilliantly despite the fact that I didn’t do all that well in my A’ levels, and despite the fact that I ended up at a red brick university instead of being the Oxbridge candidate, the higher flyer that I should have been.
I regret that I didn’t do better at school and better in my life, and I regret that everything has taken me too long, and I wanted more for my own kids, and I want more for any child that can and should do better, that has some sort of potential to fulfill.
I still wonder what if? I still wonder how different my life could have been, would have been, if I had made better decisions for myself, earlier, with regard to so many things.
One way to equip kids is to give them the chance to get everything out of their school that it has to offer. It isn’t the only way to equip kids, but it is one resource, and it’s the one we’re talking about this week.
For what it’s worth, of the 52,500 kids who got university places through clearing last year only one hundred and fifty of them traded up, because they had done better in their exams than they had expected and were able to opt for better courses in more prestigious institutions.
I think that says an awful lot about our attitude to education in the UK, an education that is free, that is subsidised for the least well-off sixteen to eighteen year olds, and that remains one of the best in the World.