A Level results

A Level results day was emotional and not aided by a stricter marking system in England.

Student in chemistry class, writing notes in school


Yesterday was A Levels day. We have not been able to talk about the A Levels in our house in the month leading up to results day. On Wednesday daughter three broke her mirror. Disaster. “It’s a sign,” she said with a voice of doom. Daughter three has really struggled through the A Levels. She broke down earlier this year before the mocks as they coincided with the anniversary of her sister’s death.

That she has even been able to get through them is an achievement, given the rollercoaster of emotions she has been through in the last few years, the rounds of counselling, changing schools, anniversaries and the like, not to mention Covid.

So results day loomed like a dark cloud. The school was open from 8.30am, but daughter three thought it would be wiser to go in later when fewer people were about to ask her what her results were. She settled on 11am. I would drive her and she would go in, grab her envelope and leave.

I parked up and waited. No sign of daughter three. I checked my emails, started reading a book on the origins of words about women and rang my mum. No-one went in or out of the school. Then suddenly daughter three arrived in tears, clutching an open envelope. She said she had been speaking to her politics teacher who has championed her all the way and who I, for one, am eternally grateful to.

Despite what I would like to think of as sensitive probing, daughter three didn’t want to talk about the results. She sat all the way home in silence, with tears rolling down her cheeks and went straight to her room.

I had earlier looked at the news which reported that the marking was harder this year, but only in England because the devolved government of the other countries in the UK are continuing to take the impact of Covid into account and seem more aware of its contribution to growing inequality. While Covid is going to have an impact for many years, particularly when it comes to increasing inequality, and marking has to go back to normal at some point, it seems quite early to discount it when this year’s A Level students have never sat a serious formal exam before and anyone who has been in a school recently is aware of the increased levels of anxiety. Plus the now terminated and wholly inadequate catch-up support seems to have missed whole swathes of students.

But instead of empathy and understanding, we had the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan telling the media that the results didn’t really matter. No-one is going to pay any attention to them in a few years time, she suggested. This is despite the fact that the whole edifice of secondary education is built on a target [grade] culture and GCSE fear is instilled in year 7s the moment they step over the school threshold. In our school, they get interim reports as if they are listed companies, which basically consist of a target grade and a currently achieving grade. The sheer gall involved in turning around and telling students who have spent years wading through this system that grades don’t matter is fairly astonishing.

Anyway, eventually daughter three came downstairs after finding out that many of her friends had also missed their targets and being regaled with stories of her relatives’ academic failures. It’s an attempt to balance the relentless focus in the news and from the school on people with A*s. She’s now trying to appeal two of the grades.

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