Congratulations to all those who managed an A or A* last week, although not everyone thinks the results were merited. Jeremy Clarkson expressed his view: “If the teachers didn’t give you the A level results you were hoping for, don’t worry. I got a C and two Us, and I ended up with loads of friends and a Bentley”. Clarkson attended Repton public school, and it was naturally England’s top private schools who secured the best exam results. The going rate to send your child to a school like Repton exceeds £30,000 a year, while Ryde School charges more than £15,000. Parents pay that because they want the best for their children, and this year, 70 per cent of students got what their parents paid for.
It’s not only private schools that give kids huge advantages, but the best state schools are only found where house prices are astronomic. If you want your child to attend these successful publicly funded institutions, you need to be able to afford housing in the local area or be prepared to lie about it. In the early ‘90s, when I lived in London, schools made checks to ensure applicants really lived where they claimed. Using a friend’s address in a good school’s catchment area was commonplace.
It’s too soon to know about the Island’s pass rates, but nationally, at 45 per cent, the number of A level entrants achieving top grades was a record high. If your A* teen is going on to university, the best of luck to them. Hopefully they won’t regret it, even if the no face-to-face restrictions remain in place. I hope they also considered vocational training, because Clarkson’s right – many of us became successful without a degree. Three of my six children didn’t go to university: all six now lead extraordinarily successful lives, although the three that obtained degrees often complain about their loan repayments.
Unlike Adrian Mole sound-alike Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, my exam memory is excellent. I failed miserably, but here’s the thing, in a year group of 120 or so kids, only one or two students earned an A in any subject at all. They were girls, and we all knew they’d do well, just as we knew who would win on sports day. My classmates knew who was the best looking, who was the coolest, who was funniest (definitely me) and who was not. Our London school wasn’t great, but we also knew who the best teachers were – there are no hiding places in schools.
Rewinding 40-plus years to our dismal exam results day, my chums and I would have laughed out loud if even 1 in 10 of us had been awarded an A or A* by our teachers, because every single one of us knew such an outcome was preposterous – about as likely as buying a genuine Rolex from a local market stall. In 1979, teachers couldn’t award grades, but if they could, very few of us deserved top marks. To have awarded all but one or two of us As or A*s would have insulted the achievement of the really clever kids. You can’t blame teachers, they’re not cheats – just humans given an impossible task in a failing system.
When and if things ever return to normal, a way must be found to stop everyone judging teachers and schools simply by the exam results achieved. Yes, of course, parents want successful schools, but unbelievable results come at the cost of credibility, and that doesn’t help anyone.