It is that time of year when students and teachers nervously await public examination results and see the outcome of hard work all round. On Thursday it is the turn of Year 11’s as they receive their GCSE results, but last week it was AS and the all-important A Levels. For Sixth Formers it is a watershed moment as their grades are a passport to their future as they make their way into Higher Education or employment at the tender age of 18. On the television brave young people agree to open their envelopes on camera for public viewing, although cynically I am always convinced this is a set up for success! School websites and social media abound with students jumping for joy holding paper aloft and statistics and percentages are oft quoted.
I am naturally proud of the achievements of our students, this year as always. And yet there are aspects of this annual cycle that sit uncomfortably with me. The first is of course the current changes to A Level which have begun this year (in some subjects) which makes it difficult to make fair and accurate comparisons of school progress. Examinations have been made harder; subject content has increased in difficulty and volume and AS Levels no longer comprise half the A Level course and re-sits are largely redundant. These changes have inevitably led to the narrowing of studies for most students (3 A Levels will be the norm) thereby reducing the breadth of study that Curriculum 2000 championed. Greater in-depth subject knowledge is undoubtedly a good thing but narrowing options at the age of 16? Maybe not?
Secondly I have become increasingly aware of the grade offer creep from universities over the years which has created a homogenous picture of 3 A’s offered almost as standard. On the day of Results it then is often clear that students may still be accepted even when these grades have not been achieved (sometimes by quite a margin). Clearly this is a good outcome for those students reflecting on a strong application and range of skills demonstrated; but why then was this not reflected in the initial offer I ask? What message does this send to youngsters? Chris Jeffrey, Headmaster of Bootham School, has debated this in an excellent article published in Independent Education Today (IE Today @_Today). I do wonder what Universities will make of the curriculum changes moving forward (with fewer AS grades to assess and harder examinations) and hope that perhaps we may see a greater delineation between offers and maybe even a return to more face to face interviews. We shall see over the next two years!
The final matter is one that seems at odds with the role of a Headteacher who champions academic success and quotes the exam statistics in person and on paper. It is my absolute conviction that academic achievement should not be the only judgement by which we measure success, either as a school or as a society. Every student is different and their individuality is the key to their character; it makes them the person they are, and still to mature and become. Whilst it is vital that we aim to secure the best results for every child in our school (that is our fundamental commitment to all) we must never lose sight of that bigger picture which paints a masterpiece landscape of diverse skills and talents in glorious technicolour. Just as everyone cannot be a top flight mathematician, neither can everyone sing beautifully or speak confidently in public. We must value vital attributes needed for the wider world such as courtesy, confidence and teamwork. Yes we must, and should, celebrate the tremendous success of those who achieve top grades but we must always keep individuality in our minds and recognise the relative academic achievements across the whole grading spectrum from A* – E.
Congratulations to all our Westholme Upper Sixth Formers on their results this August, for their academic success and most importantly for their wider achievements in diverse aspects of school life. They have enriched our community, contributing so much; they head off into the world with our heartfelt good wishes and hopes for a happy, successful future, whatever that may be. Congratulations and good luck to all!