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Didn't Get The A-Level Results You Hoped For? Bet They Weren't As Bad As Mine! Don't Panic - It'll Be O.K!

19/08/2016 13:02 | Updated 19 August 2016

If you got the results you hoped for, brilliant! Don't let me take anything away from that, you have achieved what you were aiming for and you should absolutely celebrate in whatever way you see fit and be very proud of yourself.

But what if you didn't?

Well, I'm here to tell you from experience, IT DOESN'T MATTER.

Education is one of the many bees I have in my bonnet. Admittedly the sheer volume of bees in my bonnet necessitates a metaphorical hive as headwear. This may go some way to explaining why, when I was up late and supposed to be writing an essay one night, I decided that it would help to pay a visit to YouTube and learn how to put my hair up in a beehive. I should explain at this point that I do not wear make-up, or style my hair. So other than housing figurative bees I can't imagine what purpose it would serve. The range of new and exciting things I have learned when I have had a deadline approaching at warp 9 is impressive, but seldom useful in the longer term. Anyway, I digress.

Education; it's great. But sadly it overvalues a very narrow range of skills and not only ignores but devalues and invalidates others. My own daughter does some spectacular work which shows enthusiasm, creative thought and aptitude, but because she's one of those people who never can seem to think in straight lines her work does not tick the right boxes to get marks. Looking at her grades you would not picture the same child you would see if you met her in person. This is exactly my point. Do not define yourself by your exam marks, and do not allow others to do so either. I'm not just talking to those of you who don't get the highest marks; I'm talking to those of you who do. Because one day, something may go wrong, and if all your eggs of self-esteem are carried in the same basket.... Well, Humpty Dumpty's biography does not end well for the protagonist.

If you didn't get the results you were aiming for, there are of course a number of options open to you such as clearing and re-takes. I won't go into detail here, because there will rightly be a lot of information about those options available to you from people who know far more than me about it. So rather than add to the multitude of articles saying more or less the same thing, I will tell you just how badly I managed to screw things up, and how well things are going now. Advice from a tutor or parent is great, but seldom has the perspective of someone who's willing to say 'Sod it! I really cocked that one up when I was your age and you really don't need to worry!'

As I mentioned above, education can over value some skills, and undervalue others. It can also set you on a path as if you were on train tracks and it's hard to imagine being able to take other routes to reach the same destination, or even that other destinations might actually be nicer. This was the case for me. I'm pretty much only good at one thing, I get good grades, I'm good at writing stuff. Other than that, to be honest if you turn out the light I struggle to find my own arse with both hands. But I am clever see? So, the expectation from all concerned, schools, family, myself, was that I would take the predetermined course of GCSEs > A-Levels > Degree > Career.

This was all going vaguely according to plan until I sat my A-Levels which, for a number of reasons, I monumentally failed. Now, one interesting thing here is that I always think of myself as having failed. I got two 'C' grades. At A-Level. So I didn't fail did I? But, I was predicted 'A's, as far as I was concerned I had failed because all I knew how to do was get high grades and I had mistakenly been under the impression that this was 'me', my identity. So when I didn't get the expected grades it wasn't just an academic failure, it was an existential crisis. I had no plan B. I could not even imagine what people did if they didn't do a degree. There are many, many great jobs out there which will get you equally far if not further in life than a degree would. It isn't the only option and depending upon YOUR OWN interests and skills other options may be far better for you.

What did I get for the third subject? The subject I wanted to do a degree in and base my career in?

An 'N'.

I didn't just fail; I failed so spectacularly they couldn't even give me a grade. What does 'N' even stand for? 'Not Markable', but I find it far more productive to come up with my own possibilities 'No' 'Nope' 'Nada' 'No Siree' 'Not on your Nellie' 'Now what the actual fuck are you going to do?'

And that was the question. Well, because I couldn't imagine what people who didn't do degrees and have graduate jobs do, what I did was get very depressed; I was on benefits for quite a while, and eventually I got a job I enjoyed and subsequently settled down and had kids. If from the start I had made an actual plan of what to do instead of a degree, I could have skipped the depression and the benefits and got on with life.

Having kids was great for me and I was happy to be at home with them whilst they were small. But I always intended to go back to education and put right what I felt I had got wrong. For me this was important, because it was what I was passionate about and what I wanted to base my career in, for you it may not be. My point isn't that you should take the path I took, it's that whatever path you take, it probably won't go exactly where you think it will or by the route you had planned, and that's O.K. Do what is best for you. When I didn't get my predicted grades I was offered a place through clearing to do a subject I had never even heard of and to this day I still don't know what the hell it's about. I decided I wasn't going to get a degree for the sake of having a degree. So I turned it down. I waited until the right time, and I went back. When my kids were both at school and I was 27 I did an Access Course at my local college which I really enjoyed and when I was 29 I got the results I needed to secure a place at the University of Cambridge, where I now work in research doing a job which I love. My degree, and my career, are based in the subject I got an 'N' in. If nothing else, that shows that you should not, and must not, define yourself or your future by your A-Level grades.

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