Support for school leavers is especially important this year – whatever their results

The real measure of success of this year’s A-level students should be the resilience they have shown in the face of adversity

Georgina Fuller
Tuesday 10 August 2021 12:23
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Sixth form students in Hull collect A-level results

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for A-level students over the last 18 months or so. Getting their results today must be a nail-biting experience and the fact that this year’s grades, predicted to be the highest ever, have been decided by their teachers must make it even more nerve-wracking. Surely the real measure of success should be the resilience they have shown in the face of such disruption.

Almost half (44.8 per cent at the last count) of this year’s students have been awarded an A or A* grade and a record number have been accepted by their first choice course, up by 8 per cent from last year, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Their exams have been cancelled twice, their lives have been put on hold and the goalposts have been changed numerous times. Last year, their academic achievements were downgraded by an algorithm, then they had their exams called off at the last minute before the government did another U-turn and said they would award grades on the basis of teacher assessments.

Not to mention the switch to home-learning and being kept apart from all their friends at such a crucial stage in their social lives. What a minefield for everyone involved.

I think it’s more important than ever to support these students, those who have done better than expected and those who have been disappointed, after such a hugely confusing time.

The other week I saw that my old school, an all-girls school in leafy Leamington Spa, had started posting pictures of their school leavers with inspirational captions. “Well done, Annabel, for getting a first from Nottingham and your first job as a female engineer” and so on.

It took me back to my time there in the 1990s when the headmistress was, unfortunately, someone who thought girls shouldn’t get “above their station”. She once told those of us in the bottom maths set not to “get our hopes up” as we wouldn’t “amount to anything”. She seemed old fashioned and out of touch and, as the mother of two sons, I think she genuinely thought girls were second class citizens.

I am glad I didn’t have to put my fate and academic results in the hands of someone like that when I was at school. There was no such thing as career advice then. I remember one teacher telling me there was no point in applying to Nottingham University as I wouldn’t get in. Another teacher told a friend not to apply to Bristol as it would be too “fast” for her.

Having said that, there were some wonderful teachers there too. I was predicted B,B,C and ended up doing better than expected (A, B, B) and think they were all quite stunned.

In light of today’s academic climate, I am grateful I didn’t have to rely on my teacher’s predictions.

That’s not to say that this year’s A-level students don’t deserve to bask in the glory of their results though. They have earned them.

As Matthew Weait, the deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Hertfordshire, told Sky News, getting higher grades doesn’t mean they are “less meaningful”.

He said: “We have full confidence in the grading system, and this so-called ‘grade inflation’ shouldn’t be seen as devaluing this year’s results. Today’s exam results have been achieved through incredibly hard work by students and teachers under the most challenging circumstances.”

I couldn’t agree more. We have to encourage and celebrate the results from this year’s school leavers after all the adversity and difficulties they have had to overcome. The fact I still remember so keenly not feeling supported by some of my teachers shows that these things stay with us. And the class of 2021 will never forget it if we don’t.

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