Here it is, the annual media circus surrounding GCSE results - and with it the onslaught of celebrities writing variations upon, “Don’t worry, I failed all mine and look at my multimillion pound fortune! Real entrepreneurs like me don’t have time for A*s, after all.” From Lord Sugar and Jeremy Clarkson's almost militant anti-education stance, teaming up in the Sunday Times to tell us, with eye-rolling bravado, “Schoolchildren are always told that they must work hard in lessons and pass their exams or they will end up as a health and safety officer. But this is emphatically not the case. I did not work hard at school” to Richard Branson quite literally telling us to just forget about it in a Virgin blog post entitled “Forget exam results”, celebrities practically fall over themselves at this time of year to announce how terribly they performed in academia and how they’re happy about it, goddammit, because who wants to be a silly old geek anyway?
Don’t get me wrong: the message that someone got where they are today despite their exam results is encouraging and can be comforting, but when presented as an anti-intellectual boast, is it really that helpful? Should we accept the idea that GCSEs don’t matter because they didn’t for someone whose entire life defines the term ‘statistical outlier’?
I understand the hysteria surrounding those important-seeming letters, I do. Students are already under a lot of pressure, both from their schools and teachers who are continually pressed for better and better results, and from their constantly connected peers across Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and pretty much anything else they can get their click-ready fingers on. It’s good to relax a little about the results of your academic endeavours – emphasis on ‘a little’. But maybe we should hope for a more constructive set of case studies and role models in the celebrities and business leaders who are so eager to announce that your GCSEs, your A Levels, your degree classifications don’t matter. For some people, they worked extremely hard to get this list of letters, and there’s nothing wrong with taking pride in that.
Your results will not signal the apocalypse and you have every opportunity to retake or just rise above them, but “Never mind because you might win the lottery” is hardly a workable life plan. Neither is expecting the life of celebrity to be a positive career choice, with or without GCSEs. It’s true that you don’t necessarily need exams to achieve fame or other barometers of success in our culture, but if you don’t come from a wealthy background, GCSE results are usually the first step on a horizon-widening ladder. The simple fact is that if you didn’t go to Cheltenham Ladies College or Eton, and your parents aren’t partners in Magical Circle law firms, then it's likely that you’re really going to need them.
The people getting great results today are getting them as a result of a lot of hard work and determination. In many cases they’ve struggled, sacrificed, and achieved for the first time in their lives, and now they have something tangible to celebrate. At this formative moment, let’s not tell them that it didn’t matter, that next time they shouldn’t bother. It does matter - there are people who got poor results and survived, sure - but nonetheless it does matter. Whatever your results, well done for all your hard work and determination. I promise it actually will be worth it in the end.