There’s nothing like a new exam system to make you feel your age

The new GCSEs sever all remaining ties with adolescence for late twentysomethings


Thanks to Michael Gove’s planned GCSE reforms, I will no longer be able to convincingly compare notes on exam results with my teenage nephews and nieces.

You may not see that this matters, but think about it. I really messed up my French, one of them will mutter. Oh, don’t worry, I’ll say jovially, I messed them all up, it was fine in the end. What did you get? And they’ll say a 1, or an 8, or a 63 million, and I won’t have the faintest idea what they’re talking about. Tell them about my grades? I might as well offer them a half crown, or some Opal Fruits.

In this way, another of the tenuous bonds attaching me to the past – and, through the very young, to the future – will have been cut. A colleague of mine recently realised that he was one of only two people in a meeting to have done O-levels, and felt as if he’d spotted his first grey hair. At the time, I viewed him as a modern journalistic Methuselah, but now I rather wish I’d been kinder.

As time passes, and youth expires, I find continuity is a great comfort. Possibly this is why it seemed so obscurely traumatic when Neighbours moved to Channel 5, or when my brother grew a beard. But these disturbances are at least private: the teenage exam crisis is one of the great rites of passage, and being less able to commiserate pushes generations a tick of the second hand farther apart. The past is impossibly far away, even the bits of it that happened a moment ago; the only things that tie us to it are the pieces of evidence that persist. When those connections are disrupted, you are left with a sharp sense of the distance of that particular moment in your life, but also of all the others, and the next thing you know your successors will be losing their virginity on Reddit. (God, even that joke sounds like the work of an anxiously with-it nonagenarian.)

I notice these moments more often than ever, and I suppose the process is only going to accelerate; it occurred to me the other day that a child born this year would have roughly the same historical perspective on 9/11, which seems indelibly recent, as I, a child of 1983, have on the decimalisation of British currency – an event I had vaguely presumed to have coincided with the Triassic era, and which I will now be forced to sharply re-evaluate. To any such child, I issue this warning: be kind to those of us who were marked in A*s and Cs and Us. The time will come when your own children will be examined by automated DNA scan alone, and you will realise that the same inexorable process is happening to you.

Twitter: @archiebland

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