Don’t Let Your Grades Define You

As GCSE and A-level results day looms “Don’t let your grades define you,” says Shaun Fenton, the Head of Keir Starmer’s old school

By Independent School Parent | Thu 10th Aug 2023

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

Yes, GCSE, BTEC and A-level results days, are almost upon us.

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 various 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 to help others in your House, despite your certainty that athletics is not your thing! There is no grade boundary for the volunteering and community work you undertook or the money you raised for charity.

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. These 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 school exams is mixed and 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 or university, a degree apprenticeship, employment based training and a career beyond. Most importantly, they should inspire a love of learning and leave students enthused about the future.

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

Of course, it is a depressing open secret that marks in GCSE and A-level are not even reliable 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. It is yet to be seen how things settle down in a post-covid return to ‘normal’.

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.

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