Why do we make the GCSEs into some sort of Judgement Day?

The GCSEs are just one example of how we seem to exaggerate everything these days, piling on the expectations and the anxiety.

Students taking GCSE Exams


Do we make too big a thing out of everything these days – and most particularly, school-related things? I don’t recall the kind of earth-shattering lead-up to GCSE [then O Level] results back in the day. Am I just getting old and my memory fading? I think I was just sent them in the post. Ditto A Levels. No frills, no fuss. It was a private thing between me and the brown envelope. There were no tv crews monitoring my success or failure. There were no articles everywhere with pictures of people jumping for joy [you never hear about the ones who don’t get the top grades].  The pressure this creates is enormous.

I have spent the past week delicately treading around the subject of GCSE results. Daughter two did not want to speak about the GCSEs. She was absolutely terrified of them. The sense of impending doom has hung over the house all holiday, particularly in the last week. Would the results seal her opinion of herself as the dunce of the family – she constantly compares herself to her sister who is very academic, but faces her own struggles? Would the school’s constant pressure to never let up, to never take a day off, never get ill, etc, or their ‘life chances’ will be destroyed – presumably for ever – prove to be true?

In the event, once she had managed to open the envelope, everything was okay, but her hands were shaking with nerves. “You’re through to the next round,” I announced. I’m not sure if she’s taking that in a positive manner – she’s now worrying about the A Levels…

It’s not just the GCSEs either. What about the whole hoo-ha/sob-fest around the end of primary school, ‘graduation’ from secondary school, the ridiculousness of the post-GCSE prom [daughter two’s was held in a far-flung country house and people drew up in stretch limos with designer dresses on as if they were in the Oscars], etc, etc? What on earth are we doing to our kids? Who needs all this stuff, not to mention the sheer waste of money and pressure on parents to meet unrealistic expectations? I love a good party, but I do wonder who all this marking of stages in such extravagant, showy ways is for.

Yes, kids have worked extremely hard for their GCSEs and woe betide anyone who tries to tell me they haven’t or to denigrate their achievements. But we seem to do this to everything these days – the weather, for instance. A bit of snow is now snowmageddon. It’s like we are living in a megaphone – or a comic book. The results are not good – comic book leaders, an overfocus on material rubbish, endless, vicious competition, an anxiety epidemic, particularly among the young…

GCSEs are just exams that mark the end of a certain stage of school. No more, no less. They are not judgement day. People survive GCSEs and even GCSE failure. Life goes on. There should be many ways to succeed in any healthy society.

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