Do My Results Matter?

02/09/2016 15:58

Over the past couple of weeks, teenagers up and down the country have been opening brown envelopes they've been told will decide their futures. There have been tears, both of joy and dejection, upon the discovery of whether they're equipped with an arsenal of As and A*s or a decent set of Scrabble letters.

Many students, myself included, were sold a story at school that how you do in your GCSEs and A-Levels will necessarily affect your chances of going to university and access to the upper echelons of the job market.

However, that a straight A* student from Mill Hill in north London received rejections from every medical school she applied for; and that university courses do exist with staggeringly low entrance requirements, prove that the matter cannot and should not be viewed in absolutes.

When asking the question as to whether grades matter therefore, the far-reaching answer can actually be summed up succinctly: "It depends." It depends on what you want to do.

Anyway, when the Mill Hill native's story was shared on social media, it attracted the expected bevy of bemusement and outrage in equal measure. She's a genius! Why hasn't she got in anywhere? That reaction represents a problem.

Too often in British schools, we have seen the promotion of a systematic point of view, one that is as inaccurate as it is unhealthy. It's inaccurate in the context of medicine in particular because we don't know how well or badly this girl interviewed, whether her personal statement was written in crayon or if other candidates simply had more extra-curricular experience going for them.

It's unhealthy, in any case, to heap so much pressure on a young person and suggest that their performance in a few exams will define them. We need to stop this tiered perception that one job is somehow inherently better than another.

Still, don't mistake me for some soft touch. I do think grades are very important, if not conclusive. Of course we need to have some measurement of how someone is taught and without assessment, how do we know how well they've learnt? I see very little benefit in celebrities taking to Twitter to tell teenagers that grades don't matter because that sort of rhetoric is hardly going to instill a strong work ethic, is it?

Perhaps a more sensible approach would be to view grades in tandem with demonstrable applicable skills or experience related to the course or job someone's going for. They're a good starting point, no doubt, and a bad grade in Biology is probably indicative that you won't make a great brain surgeon; but that's fine. Do something else and be the best at that instead.

Ultimately, there is a challenge that this country's educators must tackle head on - to make school and university more pertinent to the real world and stop isolating subjects to the classroom or lecture hall. As for the girl from Mill Hill, she's clearly clever, has worked hard and should be proud of her achievements, but what's life without a few setbacks? It's how you respond to them that counts.


Gcses A-levels