Friday, 19 August 2011

A level results pressure - and how to avoid it

So the A level results are out. And, like thousands of others around the country, our house was in a vice of anticipation yesterday morning waiting for  them to finally go online. 

In our case there was slightly less pressure because daughter L wants to study art, so gaining her university place was all about the quality of her portfolio rather than her grades, but nevertheless she still wanted to do well. But then of course, everyone has a different perception of what  doing ‘well’ actually means.

If you read the Daily Mail, you’d be forgiven for thinking that, come results day,  every attractive girl in the country can be found leaping into the air, holding hands with her best, and equally attractive, mate and clutching a piece of paper littered with A-star grades. Every year, the media is full of stories about how the level of grades is getting higher and higher so, although the reality is still that only 8.2% of students get an A grade, the level of expectation from the outside world also gets greater and greater, and arguably more and more unrealistic.

Poor kids. For two years or so, they potter along, doing their coursework and maybe the odd flurry of revision, in relative peace. Parents, for the most part are happy if they feel their kids are turning up at college regularly, spending marginally more time reading books than on Facebook and only being washed along in a wave of WKD or cheap lager once a week or so.  Then, come August 18th, the whole extended family, and friends of the extended family, and other parents that you see once a year at most, all want to know exactly what grades have been achieved. Suddenly a smattering of healthy B and Cs doesn’t seem quite enough (even if that’s exactly what the parents themselves got back in their day), and parents and grandparents begin to feel somewhat cheated if their little darling hasn’t got at least one A-star to boast of to their colleagues.

Daughter L, thankfully, got just what she hoped for and deserved (and did very well indeed) so we had the prosecco out to celebrate quietly together first thing in the morning. But although I was absolutely delighted for her, I still felt it was a bit crass to broadcast L’s actual grades to anyone and everyone. Maybe I'm the odd one, but I was acutely aware that there were other students out there who had worked incredibly hard to get a clutch of Cs and felt they really didn’t need to know about anyone else’s A grades. One of L’s friends had to cope with the death of her mother as she started her studies, while another has missed much of the past year due to a chronic illness, so for them, achieving any A levels at all, let alone securing a university place, was a truly remarkable achievement – and sod the lack of A stars!

The problem was, I soon discovered that the rest of the world didn’t feel quite the same. It wasn’t just the kids either. Everyone deserves to feel very proud of their successes of course, and I would never deny anyone a moment of glory, but Facebook was awash with students posting A grades onto their status, with only a few poor souls brave enough to come online to admit to their failings. And the parents were far worse. My phone was buzzing all day with queries from other parents, curious as to how L had done. Many of course were genuinely interested in L’s wellbeing and plans for the future, which was great, but with others I soon discovered that simply saying she had done ‘well’ or even ‘very well’  wasn’t enough to keep them happy.. They wanted every detail to pick over, to analyse, in order to make a judgement on L’s abilities, those of the sixth form college she’d attended, or to help them put their own child’s results into context.

And yet, for many of the kids, whether they got an A or a B in a subject will be almost immaterial from this day on. As long as they’ve got enough qualifications to go to university if they want to, and get a step closer to achieving their dreams (whether that is to become an astrophysicist or a hairdresser), that’s all that matters.

“Shall we just lie,” I eventually suggested wickedly to L. “Lets say you’ve got five A stars.. and are a bit disappointed not to have got six. It would be much more fun.”

L, of course, is a far better person than I am, and made sure I stuck - I felt rather boringly - to the truth, but I have to admit there’s part of me that still regrets not trying it out on a few people.

So, for any of you out there with a teen doing A levels next year, I strongly recommend finding a remote holiday destination for results day and then, once you’ve ensured your child has got their results and are OK, turn off your internet and your mobile for the rest of the week. Or maybe just lie to anyone you’ve never really cared for anyway – it will be a great excuse to never see those people again. Oh, but don’t forget to post a picture of your daughter leaping off a wall, with a big smile and a results letter in hand – then it will be truly convincing.

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