Finding a future after exam results chaos

James Hempsall
Friday, August 21, 2020

Yesterday was GCSE results day. ‘O’ (ordinary) levels in old money. A day I recall well – mine were in Orwellian 1984. The official end of school for me.

Yesterday was GCSE results day. ‘O’ (ordinary) levels in old money. A day I recall well – mine were in Orwellian 1984. The official end of school for me.

Which was indeed something to celebrate. A sad and disappointing one academically though. I needed three passes to do my BTEC in design and that’s what I got. Only just. With an A, a B and a C. A tear came to my eye when I realised all that effort and the trauma of attending school had resulted in four fails. They promised me seven. That’s what they predicted. But that day I learned for sure what I already knew. That the school had let me down.

It almost passed me by until a friend just messaged about her son’s results. A reasonable set I must say, and he is a talented young man. But his real sense of disappointment was echoed in his mum’s text. It can be really hard to be defined by a number, for all that effort to be reduced to a grade. This year, things have been especially difficult, frustrating and uncertain. Hence this blog.

It’s so unsatisfactory, particularly when children are put under so much pressure to work so hard, for so long. Seemingly at the expense of spending time doing other things that make balanced young people – like hobbies, exercise, vegetating on the sofa, or lurking in their rooms in a cloud of disapproval and latent anger. Yes, studying is important at school, but it does not, and should not define anyone’s ability to continue to study after school and throughout life. I am a keen advocate of lifelong learning – the demise of which in universities is something I lament. It’s not dead yet, it still has a pulse, but it really could do with a good defibrillation. That way I truly believe our universities will be more sustainable in the future and will cement links with industry to boot. Something that has the potential to help universities publish much better, and much more relevant and useful, research.

What a shame we don’t measure children and young people’s attitudes to learn, their capacity to do so, confidence, social and employability skills, teamwork, and their ability to be self-starting and curious learners. All skills they need when progressing on to FE and HE, and indeed their working careers. I think we should. But that is an art not a science.

I won’t bore you by falling into the trap of listing the academic achievements I’ve had since leaving school. But they don’t reflect the results I left with. I flourished in FE and at every stage then and since someone has said to me I could do more and go onto the next level – when I had my doubts. I felt for those not receiving their BTEC grades this week. My course was a challenging and stretching and technical one. It gave me an amazing foundation. And I never imagined I would be the first family member to go on and do a degree at university. But I did and I was. I didn’t stop there, and I don’t think I have finished yet either. For anyone out there feeling that sense of disappointment, live with the emotional response, then when you are ready dust yourself off and plan your future. Take my advice there is one out there.

James Hempsall is director at Hempsalls Consultancy

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