September 18, 2019

GCSE's — You're more than that.

On the 23rd of August, I and many other students opened our GCSE results. The culmination of years of hard work, a deeply personal experience as everyone has their expectations and hopes as to what they achieve.

You hear the tales of people revising night after night, hiring tutors or slaving away with their parents trying to ‘learn’ — to remember — the knowledge needed to pass the exams with the best results possible, with results they will be proud of!

And for the most part, they achieve what they aim for, even exceed it. Hours of work paying off when it counts so that when they finally get to open their envelope they can celebrate with pride!

Others, with minimum effort, will open their results to grades teachers and schools alike will celebrate, 6’s, 7’s or 8’s, results that look fantastic on spreadsheets and in data but don’t reflect the individuals potential, even they’re disappointment as they knew they could have done better, they haven’t reached their full potential.

In life and work, there are some skills that we all need: resilience, a good work ethic and commitment (to name a few relevant to the point). GCSE’s and I dare say any standardised tests fail to measure or ‘grade’ these crucial life skills. (The Finnish education being an excellent example, they have only one optional standardised test in their entire system and yet — they have one of the best education systems in the world, despite this lack of tests we deem so important in the UK. See: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/09/10-reasons-why-finlands-education-system-is-the-best-in-the-world for more details on the Finnish system) They instead demonstrate knowledge in one specific field and nothing else — your ability to analyse a play or find the angles in a triangle. 

Furthermore, there is a stigma attached that because you achieved high grades you must have worked for it, and likewise, the inverse also applies, without understanding the full picture and what our numbers mean to us individually. I’m not saying high achievers don’t work hard and in-fact, on the whole, this is definitely not the case, but in some exceptions, people are just naturally gifted and don’t need resilience to do well in their areas of strengths. Furthermore, some people just don’t understand how osmosis works or what an atom is and as such put hours and hours of studies towards figuring out the topics so they may pass their exams. 

For one of my friends this is exactly the case, she’s an excellent singer, actor and dancer, yet when it comes to figuring out why X+Y=7, well, it just isn’t her strong suit. Yet, out of fear of having to retake a subject, she devoted days and evenings to studying intently as her family supported her to make sure she could figure it out and when the exam came she could pass it and never look at algebra or geometry again! She persevered and didn’t give up, showing an excellent work ethic and strength of character, overcoming the stress and proving herself proud. Total respect for her journey and the work she put in… And yet… according to the system, someone who gave minimal effort and was just lucky to be gifted in the subject could come across as ‘better’ because they achieved a higher grade with no understanding, consideration shown for their journeys, resilience, hard work (or lack thereof), as this second person sits complacent and happy in the likelihood they won’t fail, with no desire to achieve more or their best, the other works through sweat and tears to ensure they achieve the best and yet, because the tests are standardised they will be compared as equals with no regard to the bigger picture or the life skills needed to achieve what was.

Where I live has 2 secondary schools, with a strong historic rivalry. One is considered a ‘grade factory’ and achieves consistently high results. The other focuses more on providing tailored support and help for the individual, focusing not just on exam-related success but home and social life needs as well. One provides you with a voice and the confidence needed to speak up, provides you with a comfortable, supportive learning environment whilst the other pushes and pushes to ensure it squeezes the highest grades possible out of you. On paper, this school far exceeds the other, but which one would you rather attend every day? 

I’m happy, more than happy, with my results. The press were at our school and as they interviewed people they would ask a few standard questions ‘how do you feel’ ‘how did you find the exams’ the sort of things you’d expect, then, with unapologetic scrutiny they asked for your grades, the exact numbers in each subject, your results to be published next to everyone else’s, despite what they’ve just asked you, about your journey today they still insist on fixating on numbers, ignoring the whole picture of us as people. Is a series of grades all you care about? A way to measure us all not as individuals but commodities with a level of quality, like energy efficiency or food. Once again, not taking the time to acknowledge our strengths or characteristics.

To all those out there, I hope you’re proud of your results, I hope when you look back you’re proud of your commitment and attitude towards the whole laborious affair but most importantly; I hope you remember how much more you are and how no matter what, your performance in an exam is not what will define you in life, look at celebrities anywhere, Madonna, Elon Musk, Van Gogh, even scientists and key academics like Marie Curie or Stephen Hawking aren’t measured by their performances in tests because we all have so much more to offer the world. 

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Joseph Dawson
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