There’s no GCSE in sticking by your friends or stepping up in a crisis


Don’t let your grades define you, HMC Chair Shaun Fenton advises young people, as results day looms

Ever since thousands of exhausted teenagers laid down their pens at the end of their final GCSE exam back in May or early June, they – and their anxious parents – have had only one thing on their minds.

Yes August 23rd, GCSE results day, is almost upon us.

It has been the only cloud in the sky through the sweltering days of July and early August, it lurks even as we tried to enjoy carefree summer holidays. And each day it looms larger. The Day.

And while I wish every candidate all the luck in the world with their results, this is also the ideal moment to remind this fabulous generation of young people about all the varies achievements and rich personal qualities that grades and exam results won’t reveal about them.

Grades and exam certificates only measure half of what makes a great education. They do open doors of opportunity but a fully rounded young person is so much more. League tables and exam certificates do not measure crucial things like the quality of friendships, preparedness for adult life, and team-working skills.

There isn’t a GCSE that tells examiners that you offered support to a friend who needed you, when the going got tough. Neither is there one that reveals that you gave your all to running third leg in the sprint relay team despite your certainty that your rightful place was second.

And the fact that when illness took its toll in the winter term, you stepped up to take the lead in the school play at a few days’ notice is nowhere to be seen in your results print-out. This are the lessons of childhood and they both form and reveal your character

The value of a fist full of GCSE qualifications soon fades when they have served as a launchpad for the next stage in life. A great education is about so much more. Life’s success will be more about qualities of character than a fist full of certificates.

The value of GCSEs is varied. It lies in the opportunities they provide to learn about yourself and the world, and in the way that they enable young people to strive and celebrate their achievements and learning. However, they also have a transitionary function as a foundation for future educational and career options. They set young people on track for A-levels and, for many, university and a career beyond. Most importantly, they should inspire a love of learning and leave students enthused about the subjects they want to pursue post-16.

Young people – and their parents – should remember: no employer recruits on the basis of GCSE marks alone, no promotion application is decided by counting A* grades.

Of course a depressing open-secret is that marks in GCSE are not even great proxies for identifying those who will do best at university. To this end, our most-admired universities already have their own entrance exams and their own interviews. Their admissions tutors don’t trust GCSE and A level exam results alone – and the new GCSE, which aims to help them distinguish between the exceptional and the merely very able, will not cause them to change their minds.

So, rather than obsessing about your GCSE grades in what are in many ways the last days of childhood, enjoy every moment. Enjoy the optimism of summer and the promise of childhood for as long as you are able. And when The Day comes, be pleased with the grades you’ve achieved and congratulate yourself on your hard work and effort.

But remember: it won’t be the marks you scored but your character and the person you are that will create life chances in the future.

Shaun Fenton

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