Monday, 16 November 2015

What if I fail?



I have lots of GCSE students at the moment and we don't use the F word very often. We talk about how to achieve the C, or how the last mark was a D or an E. We talk about how it might be better to do the Higher paper and risk not knowing anything but have a better chance of a C anyway. Lots and lots of talk about the C grade, but we don't say...fail.

We don't even whisper it. We don't talk about not getting a C as a fail, or how getting a D would still be a fail. E doesn't even come into it - no one wants to think about the E. Anything that is not a C is a fail, but we don't say it.

Is it that simple though?

We build up our kids to do their best. From an early age we say, 'You can only do your best!' And if they don't do as well as they hoped, we tell them it was good enough, it was great, they did a great job because they did their best. It's all just great until you reach exam stage and then it switches round to success above all else.

And suddenly success is not about doing your best. When did that happen? Who gave it permission to be a truth in the exam years that success could not mean anything less than a C? Or that to some students success is marked only with an A?

Please! Those same students who worked their socks off all these years did not suddenly do less well; they did what they could in the face of a rigid system that judges people by a few hours work crammed in at the end of their school lives. Does getting less than a C negate all those years of learning? All those years of effort and good attendance and hopes?

Don't come at me with your Ifs and Buts either. If only they tried, if only they listened, if only they did exactly what their teacher said. But employers want C, but they can't do college without a C, they can't do A Levels without a C.

In the real world, things happen in long, curly loops of time filled with living and all kinds of learning. In the world beyond school, we do not have to cram what we know into tiny pockets of time and hope it turns out okay. In the rest of our lives after school we finally discover the truth that school - and exams - were the beginning, not the end.

So what if we fail? What if your child fails? What if there is no C at the end of the yellow brick road?

Well, then, perhaps all those wonderful qualities that make your child amazing just as they are will have to be used instead of the bit of paper talking about their exam results.

College and A Levels and Jobs are all big, important life events but the bold C in black and white is not the only way to access these. And if people in authority judge your child only on their grades and not on their overall achievements and efforts, perhaps you need to look elsewhere?

In the end, we all fail. Life happens, things occur in the wrong order, we miss the right turning and take some time to find another way. Half the excitement of living your own life is to discover what really suits you and a lot of that discovery comes from finding out what doesn't fit after all.

Do well and don't think of failure. Do your very best, just like when you were little, and truly, no one should ask any more of you. And when you get the grade you worked so hard for, please be very proud of yourself.

There is no fail, there is only life, and we all have to take that test in our own unique way.


© Amanda J Harrington 2015

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