Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 15 August 2013

Results Day

Today is one of the biggest school days of the year in the UK.

Today is the day when all those leaving school, aged 18, receive news of just what they achieved during their time there. They find out how qualified they are, and what those qualifications mean with regard to going on to higher education, to university.

Other countries have other systems, but in the UK, most kids still sit A’ level exams in their last year at school. They choose which subjects they’re going to take, usually up to a total of four, although a few might take more than that, they study those subjects, and they complete coursework and sit exams in them. That’s it.

Today those kids who completed their last year of school in July, who took A’ levels, will receive news of their results. Most will return to their schools this morning, and be handed those results on slips of paper.

Today 335,000 kids will find out whether their grades are good enough to get them into their first choice universities, and, if not, where they’ll end up going, whether they’ll have to reapply through clearing and whether they’ll go to university at all.

One very thoughtful girl checking out her results
taken from the Guardian
For most eighteen year olds, this might prove to be the most important day of their lives, so far.

It’s strange, to me, then, to see and hear so many people bidding those kids good luck, this morning. It’s utterly meaningless. Luck has nothing to do with anything.

Any of those kids that believes that it’s OK to rely on luck on the day the results are announced is in for a world of hurt, and, if not today, then some time in the future. Come to think of it, any one wishing a kid luck today is deluded.

Yes... I realise that it’s a matter of form to wish anyone luck on the day exam results come in, but too often that’s the only encouragement anyone ever seems to get.

These kids began their A levels two years ago when they embarked on their AS levels. A year ago, they sat their AS levels and got the results of those exams, so they should have a pretty good idea of what to expect this time around.

It’s funny, isn’t it, that no one ever does better in his A level results than in his AS level results. No one ever does get the extra four or five points he needs to go up a grade band.

There’s a reason for that, and it’s all to do with hard work and preparation. No one ever seems to learn to do more of it, and part of the reason for that is that no one seems to take school terribly seriously.

Teenagers always have something else to do, even if it isn’t something better.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that it isn’t a good idea for kids to have social lives, and I’m not for a moment suggesting that it isn’t a good idea for kids to do some extra curricular activities. Both of my kids did both of those things.

There were rules, though, and it didn’t matter how old they got, there were still rules. The single biggest rule was that school was their job. They had to go to school. While they were in class, they had to be there, so they might as well attend to what was going on. If homework was set, they had to do it. I never stood over them while they did it, but I asked them every day  if they had homework, and I asked them every day if they’d done their homework.

More than anything else, my children did not have a job outside of school, while they were at school. School was their job, and to do it right, school is a full-time job. 

If a child is at school from 9 to 3-30 and has three hours of homework per evening, which isn’t unusual, that’s a working day of nine and a half hours. That adds up to a forty-seven and a half hour week, which is ten more hours than any full-time job. Why would any parent then expect that child to add, say, another nine hour day on a Saturday, or, more probably, a couple of four hour evening shifts, after school plus a Saturday and a short day on Sunday, now that shops have long opening hours. A sixth former could end up working a twenty hour week on top of her school week. The homework is bound to get lost in the mix, especially if she also goes out a couple of nights a week, and, with that lucrative part-time job, she’s got the money to pay for the brand new social life. 

The school my kids attended strongly discouraged their students from working, and yet almost all of my kids’ friends had some sort of job. Parents should work in partnership with schools, but this clearly wasn’t happening in this case.

I wonder how many of those parents would have allowed their children to work if they’d realised that their children were running up seventy and eighty hour weeks. I hope they’d be appalled by that. The problem is that most adults remember their school days through rose tinted glasses. They forget that it was often a grind, that sometimes they didn’t want to be there, that it could be boring, hard work, soul destroying and frustrating. They forget that it is work, and that kids are kids, and that often their lives are too full. They forget that the reason for that is often because, as working parents, we fill the time in their lives that we are absent from the house, and that can be hard work for the kids, too.

I didn’t want to leave my kids’ futures to luck, and I didn’t think that my kids were old enough at 16 or 17 to make their own decisions about the rest of their lives. What’s more, they were living under my roof, and I was still able to have some influence over them, and why not?

Work experience has its own value, and, as it happens, both of my kids took gap years, and worked through them. They did everything from bar work and waitressing, to working as a teaching assistant and for the local theatre. They enjoyed working, and they enjoyed earning, and it was its own learning experience. If they hadn’t taken gap years, they could still have worked through the long summer holidays and got work experience that way. They need not have missed out.

I’m not wishing anyone luck this morning. I just hope that the majority of the kids who took their A levels this year had the time and space to do what they needed to do to get the results they required to move forward with their lives. I hope they had the opportunity to put in the work, and I hope they were prepared.

For those who’ve spent the last couple of years working those seventy hour weeks, I hope it didn’t scupper their chances, and I hope they won’t have to spend their lives with their noses to those sorts of grindstones in the future. Sadly, if they failed to do well enough, they might end up in the kinds of jobs that pay minimum wage, and maybe they’ll need those kinds of hours to make ends meet. I do hope not.


  1. I agree: luck does not change your grades. In fact, luck doesn't exist at all. Luck is simply a mechanism for explaining favourable or unfavourable events, that usually have no bearing on skill or ability (are lottery winners lucky?). As grades do have a bearing, the concept of luck should not be used. Correct; full marks.

    In an ideal world, students wouldn't have to work. Sadly, we do not live in an ideal world. Too many of us come from a poor home - many from single-parent families - and there is often a choice to be made. Rarely is that choice whether to work or not while 'working' at school/college, but generally the choice for us poor folk is whether to work and do 'A' levels, or just work. There is no alternative (ignoring benefits), and it really comes down to determination. My sister worked 3 jobs while she was at college and university, and she got A's and her degree. She now works as an English teacher, which was her goal, so I am immensely proud of her. My goal was to be a software developer, which I am, despite working since I was 15.

    You should consider the single parents that cannot afford to give their children everything they need to stay in education, despite working 2 jobs and sacrificing things for themselves so that their children can have a better life. I'm sure a lot of parents do everything they can, but often the part-time job for a student is a necessity.

    1. Congratulations to both you and your sister, and you absolutely should be proud of your achievements.

      I'm totally sympathetic to your situation and to the circumstances of families like yours. We live in a welfare state, however, which does provide. I have first hand experience of this. Sometimes it does mean making choices, and those choices do sometimes mean not having the 'better life' that your parent clearly chose to give you. It is still a choice though that children don't have where that quality of welfare state doesn't exist, where education and healthcare aren't available, free at the point of need.

      I wish you every success, and hope that a nation as rich as ours continues to offer those choices for generations to come.

  2. I wish I had done better at my A-levels. I worked three differet jobs over the two years of Sixth Form, but it was my general lack of desire (read, overconfidence) in academia that led me to play computer games and hang out with friends rather than do home work. I consider the jobs I had to have given me valuable experience and contributed well to my work ethic for later life. The hours I worked had nothing to do with my mediocre results and, if anything, stood me in better stead for my future employment. Just my thoughts on the matter.